Freedom Foundation

Washington Legislature Holds Hearings on Anti-Janus Bills

This week, state legislative committees in Olympia held public hearings on legislation designed specifically to undermine the rights of public employees to make their own decisions about whether to financially support a union. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year in Janus v. AFSCME that compelling public employees to pay union fees as a condition of employment violates the First Amendment.

A hearing on HB 1575 was held by the House Committee on Labor and Workplace Standards on Monday, and its identical companion bill, SB 5623, received a hearing before the Senate Committee on Labor and Commerce on Tuesday.

The Freedom Foundation provided testimony against both bills, which would: (1) make it easier for unions to deduct dues from public employees’ wages and harder for public employees to cancel such deductions; (2) undermine public employees’ ability to vote on union representation in secret ballot elections; and, (3) eliminate unions’ legal liability under state law for the agency fees they unconstitutionally collected from nonmember public employees prior to Janus.

Taken together, these changes can only be interpreted as an attempt to further stem declining union membership following the Janus decision and subsequent Freedom Foundation outreach to help Washington public employees understand their rights and how to exercise them.

The case for the legislation put forward by the bills’ sponsors and supportive union lobbyists was anemic at best.

Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver), sponsor of HB 1575 and a Washington Education Association (WEA) member, simply stated the bill was needed to create a “clear and easily followed” process for deducting union dues from public employees’ wages.

The concise statement made by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), who sponsored SB 5623, cannot be criticized for lacking candor. He stated simply, “I think (SB 5623 is) important legislation to ensure union membership remains strong and, as a union member myself, I see a lot of value in that.”

Union lobbyists spoke longer but said little more than the bill’s sponsors.

Pat Thompson of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees stated,

“The bill is designed to align our collective bargaining laws with the new Janus decision we’ve all been living with since June. It provides a great deal of uniformity out there, which is good so people know the rules of the road…”

Erin Haick of SEIU Local 925 testified the legislation would “streamline (union) organizing and membership.”

Lastly, Lucinda Young of the WEA explained,

“One of the benefits of Janus is that it clarified that union membership is now strictly a relationship between the member and the union. This bill clarifies what an individual must do to become a member and that the exclusive bargaining agent has the responsibility to inform the employer. And this bill also makes it crystal clear that, when somebody wants to resign their membership, they follow the system that the union has set up. So, for example, with WEA, they submit a letter in writing and immediate action is taken, including outreach from the local to see if that person would like to reconsider.”

Young’s comment about Janus “clarifying” the relationship between unions and members is baffling. Janus simply did not discuss the point. And as much as the relationship should be between unions and employees, unions have dragged public employers into the mix by imposing upon them the obligation to collect union dues from employees’ wages.

As long as employers perform this function, they will be inextricably linked to questions of union membership and dues payment. As the Freedom Foundation pointed out, giving unions complete control over public payroll systems would place employers in the unenviable position of having to violate either state law, if they process employees’ dues cancellation requests, or the U.S. Constitution, if they process employees’ cancellations without getting the union’s approval.

The best anyone could say the legislation is that it would establish “clarity,” but just because legislation is “clear” and “uniform” does not mean the system being imposed is just or effective. And that’s precisely the issue with HB 1575 and SB 5623.

As its proponents admitted, the purpose of the legislation is to prop up unions’ dues collection.

For instance, when Thompson was asked by Rep. Larry Hoff (R-Felida) why the legislation allowed unions to sign employees up for membership in writing, electronically or over the phone, but only permitted employees to resign in writing, Thompson had no answer. The only legitimate answer he could have provided was that the bill’s intent is to make it as easy as possible for unions to deduct dues from public employees’ wages while making it as difficult as possible for employees to resign. But he could hardly admit as much in a formal setting.

The simple truth is that both bills amount to nothing more than government unions exercising their political influence to pad their dues collection at public employees’ expense. They should be opposed on those grounds.