This week, Service Employees International Union Local 775 (SEIU 775) agreed to pay $3.25 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in federal court brought by individual provider home care aides (IPs) who had union dues deducted from their wages without their consent.
Although it represents just a fraction of the money illegally seized from the wages of thousands of IPs, the settlement agreement in Routh v. SEIU 775 is one of the biggest losses yet for a union that has grown powerful because of legally questionable practices.
IPs provide home-based care to Medicaid-eligible elderly clients and those with disabilities who need assistance with activities of daily living. The state pays IPs directly on clients’ behalf.
After IPs were unionized in 2002, SEIU 775 and the state of Washington agreed to force IPs to pay union dues or fees as a condition of caring for Medicaid clients. The state deducted the union payments from IPs wages and forwarded the funds to SEIU 775. This practice continued until 2014, when it was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional in Harris v. Quinn.
Following the decision, the union and Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration agreed to a scheme to continue seizing dues from the wages IPs who had never authorized the deductions. To cancel the automatic deductions, an IP had to send a written cancellation to the union.
In a 2015 Freedom Foundation video, one of the Routh plaintiffs, Mary Jane Olson, described her reaction to the unauthorized deductions:
“When I received my first paycheck from DSHS, I was shocked to see that union dues were being withheld from my paycheck, because I knew I had not signed authorizing them to deduct any payment to SEIU at all.”
The Freedom Foundation challenged this exploitative practice in the state Legislature and in state courts, but union-aligned state officials refused to halt the unauthorized deductions. Accordingly, the Freedom Foundation asked the U.S. Supreme Court to find it unconstitutional for government employers to collect union dues from employees’ wages without permission.
In its June 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court held that government employers cannot deduct union dues/fees from an employee’s wages “unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”
Immediately following the decision, the Freedom Foundation filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against SEIU 775 and Gov. Inslee on behalf of IPs who had dues taken from their wages without their permission. The state and union ended the practice in August 2018.
This week’s settlement in Routh resulted from a lawsuit originally filed by a group of IPs in February 2014. The IPs were represented by two private law firms, Gorden Tilden Thomas & Cordell LLP and Carson & Noel PLLC.
The IPs represented by the Freedom Foundation in Schumacher v. Inslee have the option of accepting the terms of the class settlement negotiated in Routh or opting out of the class and continuing to pursue their own litigation against SEIU 775 with the Foundation.
While the settlement is good news, the thousands of IPs victimized by SEIU 775 and union-aligned state officials will recover far less than the total amount taken from them illegally.
The Freedom Foundation estimates that, between the Harris decision in June 2014 and the end of the automatic deductions in August 2018, SEIU 775 collected $11 to 15 million from IPs without their consent. After legal fees and other costs, IPs will receive only $2.3 million under the settlement.
Unfortunately, many other illegal practices concocted by SEIU 775 and Gov. Inslee’s administration continue.
The Freedom Foundation has ongoing litigation against SEIU 775 on behalf of IPs who have been illegally signed up for union membership over the phone and who have had their signatures forged on union membership forms by union organizers. The very practice of having the state skim Medicaid funds from IPs’ wages on SEIU 775’s behalf under any circumstances runs afoul of federal Medicaid laws and is the subject of ongoing litigation.
Nonetheless, this week’s settlement is a long-overdue vindication of caregivers’ rights and is one of many steps necessary to hold SEIU 775 accountable for its illegal and unacceptable practices.