Records obtained by the Freedom Foundation from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office under the state Public Records Act indicate the governor worked with government unions during the 2018 legislative session on legislation intended to undermine public employees’ First Amendment rights.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Janus v. AFSCME that it is unconstitutional under the First Amendment for states and unions to require public employees to pay union dues against their will.
The loss came as no surprise to unions. Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), stated at the Washington Federation of State Employees’ (WFSE) 2017 annual convention that there was a “very good chance” the union would lose in Janus.
Consequently, unions like WFSE began preparations to preemptively undermine the ruling. One tactic involved pressuring employees to sign nearly irrevocable union membership forms authorizing their employer to deduct union dues from their wages.
Unions also sought to put in place the legal framework necessary to seize union dues from public employees’ wages automatically, requiring them to opt-out of the union dues deductions rather than only deducting dues from employees who had authorized it.
In the 2018 legislative session, House Bill 2751, introduced by public school employee and union activist Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver), sought to do just that.
Despite opposition from the Freedom Foundation and public employees, the legislation was passed along largely party lines and signed into law by Gov. Inslee.
After the end of the legislative session, Tara Lee, Inslee’s deputy communications director, emailed the governor’s policy advisers asking them to submit “a summary of what was accomplished during the session.”
Paulette Avalos, Inslee’s senior policy advisor for labor issues, emailed back a document summarizing some of the union-requested legislation that had passed. It included the following description of HB 2751:
“This bill mirrors the language in the individual provider’s union (SEIU775) statute that allows for automatic dues deductions without written authorization when there is a union security provision, and extends it to the other public sector statutes. This change allows for this provision to be bargained into the collective bargaining agreements. For example, the current Individual Provider agreement, which is what this bill is modeled after, allows for dues to be deducted without prior authorization, however requires that the union notify each provider that they are not required to join the union and allow the provider to opt out of paying the fee within 30 days. The current WFSE agreement, which will be changed with this language, currently provides that the employer will deduct dues, agency shop fees or a representation fee from employees who request such deduction in writing.” (Emphasis added)
There’s nothing factually wrong with Avalos’ description of the legislation and its effect. In fact, she was quite forthright about the goal of seizing union dues from public employees’ wages “without written authorization.” And none of this was a secret at the time.
The stunning revelation in this document is that the governor’s office was always planning to include the opt-out requirement in the next collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with WFSE (and likely other unions), the largest state employees’ union in Washington. While Avalos’ email was sent on March 27, the state’s negotiations with WFSE over the next CBA did not begin until May 3.
This means one of two things. Either state officials were already communicating or informally negotiating with unions prior to the start of formal CBA negotiations or, more likely, Gov. Inslee is so bent on protecting unions’ ability to seize dues from public employees’ wages that he does not even make them go through the motions of asking for what they want at the bargaining table.
Neither option inspires confidence that Gov. Inslee and his labor negotiators are seeking to properly represent the interests of employees and taxpayers in collective bargaining.
Thankfully, in this case at least, the story has a happy ending.
One of the two amicus briefs the Freedom Foundation submitted to the Supreme Court in support of plaintiff Mark Janus documented how Washington had implemented an opt-out requirement for home caregivers after the Court’s earlier decision in Harris v. Quinn freed them from mandatory union payments. The Freedom Foundation asked the court to not only strike down forced union dues as unconstitutional, but to also clarify that unions must obtain employees’ affirmative consent before taking dues out of their wages.
The Supreme Court agreed, holding that,
“Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”
Nevertheless, the exercise provides valuable insight into the corrupt relationship between government unions intent on maximizing dues collection and politicians who rely on the same unions for political support.
While appropriate reforms would include things like increasing the transparency of the collective bargaining process, an end to taxpayer subsidies of union activities and increased protection of employee rights, expect more of the same kinds of backroom deals and scheming in the 2019 legislature.