One government union at a time, worker freedom is on the march in Washington.
This month, the Freedom Foundation launched yet another campaign to educate a new set of union workers of their rights.
Even though most unionized employees in the state can still be fired for refusing to pay union dues and fees, the 2014 Harris v. Quinn U.S. Supreme Court decision gave tens of thousands of “partial-public employees” in Washington the ability to cease financially supporting unions they do not support.
So far, the bulk of the Freedom Foundation’s educational outreach has focused primarily on the approximately 11,000 state paid family childcare providers represented by SEIU 925, as the union was unable to prevent the state’s disclosure of providers’ contact information to the Freedom Foundation.
The Freedom Foundation is still in court with SEIU 775 over access to the state’s complete list of 35,000 individual provider homecare aides (IPs), but has still been able to reach some segments of the state’s IPs through other means.
With those efforts well underway, the Freedom Foundation this month turned its attention to the third group of union workers affected by Harris – state-paid language access providers (LAPs).
Represented by the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE), about 1,000 interpreters serve clients receiving Medicaid services through the Department of Social and Health Services. Like family childcare providers and IPs, state law considers LAPs public employees “solely for the purposes of collective bargaining.”
The Washington State Legislature extended collective bargaining rights to interpreters in 2010 and WFSE organized them later the same year, making them the most recently unionized group of partial public employees in Washington.
Unsurprisingly, when the Freedom Foundation requested LAPs’ contact information from the state, WFSE filed suit to block the release of the records and keep its members from learning of their rights. But the Freedom Foundation’s legal team successfully persuaded the court to allow the disclosure to proceed.
As with similar efforts, the comprehensive outreach campaign includes direct mail, email, phone calls and door-to-door canvassing.
WFSE has been forced to respond to the Freedom Foundation’s outreach with its own, predictably nasty, counter-messaging.
In an email the union sent to interpreters, it accused the Freedom Foundation of “intruding” into interpreters’ privacy and described it as “an organization funded by out-of-state wealthy interests” that wants to “dismantle the union which then removes opposition to cutting public services and your pay.”
Though the outreach effort is still in its early stages, about 5 percent of LAPs have already chosen to resign their membership in WFSE. If the experience of other unions is any indication, many more could choose to similarly exercise their rights in the coming months.
Recently obtained state data for September indicates that family childcare provider membership in SEIU 925 continued its decline to 48 percent.
At the same time, the number of IPs that had resigned from SEIU 775 continued its gradual but steady increase, reaching 3.3 percent in September.
Choice is empowering. For far too long, the ability to have workers fired for refusing to pay dues has allowed government unions to take its members for granted.
As one LAP told the Freedom Foundation, “WFSE in particular had not ever been challenged in the past by any forces, so they never had to prove their worth to the members. Bullying, racism, nepotism, corruption and other illnesses are the result the membership has to suffer.”
But the tide is turning. By any measure, 2015 was a good year for workplace freedom in Washington.
Hopefully 2016 will be even better.