Freedom Foundation

PERC Complaint Filed Against Transit Union for Outing Nonmembers

(SEATTLE, Wash.) — The whole point of having Constitutional rights is being able to exercise them without penalty.

That distinction, however, is apparently lost on Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 587, which represents public transit workers in Washington state and, in its February 2021 newsletter, decided it would be a good idea to publish the names of 15 employees who had recently opted out of union membership and dues.

In response, one of those outed — a diesel mechanic at King County Metro Transit for more than 25 years — on March 3, 2021 filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Washington Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), alleging his union not only illegally interfered with his right to opt out of union membership but publicly harassed him when he tried.

“ATU is clearly trying to expose someone who did nothing but follow his conscience to the anger of his co-workers in hopes of intimidating others who might be considering joining him in leaving the union.” said Sydney Phillips, litigation counsel for the Freedom Foundation, which filed the complaint on behalf of the employee. “That’s not how rights are supposed to work.”

Prior to 2018, workers like the mechanic had no choice but to join or pay a so-called “agency fee” to a union if they wanted to keep their jobs. But that changed when the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME affirmed that mandatory membership, dues and fees in the public sector violate the worker’s rights under the First Amendment.

Moreover, Washington law has long recognized it is an unfair labor practice for a union to “interfere with, restrain or coerce public employees in the exercise of their rights…”

The article, written by Patrick Brady, ATU 587’s financial secretary, hailed the union for its “culture of unity and also (for) allow(ing) for a great diversity of opinion on many subjects related to our work life.”

Just a few lines later, however, he refers to the employees who opted out as “cowards” and “free-loaders.”

Brady complains the employees are getting valuable services for nothing because the union is required to represent even nonmembers in contract negotiations.

“These workers never asked the union to speak for them or authorized it to take their money for the privilege,” Phillips said. “Under the Constitution, they have the right to make that decision and continue to work side by side with people who choose to waive it.”

Before concluding his article with the names of those who opted out, Brady makes clear he isn’t speaking only for himself, and that future issues of the newsletter will continue the practice of doxing defectors.

“In the future,” he wrote, “with the consent of our executive board, we can list all nonmembers.”

“Wrong again,” said Freedom Foundation CEO Aaron Withe. “In this country, you don’t get a choice about ‘allowing’ diversity of opinion. It’s the law, whether the executive board gives its consent or not.

“And if ATU 587 continues to ignore it,” he added, “unfair labor practices complaints — and the penalties that come with them — will be a regular part of its future.”