Since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Harris v. Quinn last June, which made union dues voluntary for certain types of employees, the Freedom Foundation has advocated for the ruling to be completely observed in Washington.
Four types of Washington workers — individual providers (IPs), family child care providers, language access providers and adult family home providers — are covered by the ruling, totaling about 50,000 employees.
While the state is no longer terminating providers that refuse to pay union dues, some confusion and gaps remain in the state and the unions’ implementation of the ruling. The Attorney General’s office has steadfastly refused to comment on the effect of the ruling in Washington. Because state law authorizing mandatory union dues for these workers is still on the books, many providers remain hesitant to exercise their rights. Several providers have told the Freedom Foundation that state employees continue to tell providers that union membership is mandatory.
Additionally, the state’s lack of compliance has left it open to litigation. A group of IPs has already sued the state and SEIU 775 to protect their Harris rights. Further litigation could conceivably be filed against the state by the other affected groups as well.
A bill currently making its way through the Senate could change that. Introduced by Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane), SB 5671 seeks to bring state law into compliance with Harris v. Quinn. The Commerce and Labor Committee recently approved the legislation in a party-line vote after the Freedom Foundation and three affected union members testified in support of the change.
Bradley Boardman, an individual provider home care aide, told senators on the committee:
“I am not anti-union, but I am pro-freedom, and I don’t believe that I should be forced to choose between supporting a union and losing my job. Please support Senate Bill 5671 as a simple step in bringing Washington law into alignment with Harris v. Quinn.”
The only testimony against the legislation came from Dmitri Iglitzen, General Counsel for the Washington State Labor Council.
Iglitzen made two main arguments against the legislation. First, he contended:
“Under current law, the union is obligated to represent all of the employees that it represents that are in its bargaining unit regardless of whether they pay dues or not. This bill presumes people want representational services from the union but don’t want to pay for it. Frankly, that is insulting to the workers who are, in fact, choosing to pay these dues.”
Essentially, Iglitzen takes issue with the fact that SB 5671 would only permit the state to deduct union dues from providers who have given their voluntary consent. The assumption under state law as currently being observed is that IPs (by far the largest of the four affected groups) wish to pay full dues, even if they have given no authorization for the deductions. In other words, they must opt-out of dues rather than opting-in.
But, on both legal and policy grounds, Iglitzen doesn’t have a leg to stand on. According to the Office of Financial Management, the newly-negotiated contracts for the other three affected groups require providers to opt-in to paying dues, rather than forcing them to opt-out. If the state and the unions agreed in every other case that Harris necessitates an opt-in system for union membership, why is the opposite true for home care providers?
The basis for Iglitzen’s indignation is his assumption that providers want to be union represented but don’t want to pay dues. But it is far from established that IPs wish to be represented by SEIU 775. The only vote was taken 12 years ago. At that time, only 6,575 out of 25,501 IPs voted for the union. It is far from certain that a majority of the current set of 33,000 IPs would vote for the union if given the chance.
Furthermore, as the court realized in Harris, the unions representing the four affected groups do not operate as traditional unions do. Providers have no common workplace and are technically employed by the clients they serve, not the state. Consequently, the unions do not process grievances or “represent” employees in the typical sense. Instead, the union’s role is limited to negotiating a new contract with the state every two years that sets the reimbursement rates providers will receive. Such contracts do secure substantial benefits for the unions, however, which profit greatly from the state promoting union membership and collecting dues.
From a policy standpoint, there is simply no justification for automatically assuming that providers want to pay dues to a controversial organization when they don’t have to.
Iglitzen’s second argument was openly deceitful. According to the attorney,
“This bill also disenfranchises at a stroke thousands of workers who currently have the right… to vote on contracts, they have the right to vote for their union leadership. The moment this bill with this language becomes law, none of those people can vote anymore; they are stripped of their democratic rights.”
But nothing in SB 5671 alters or restricts the ability of providers to participate in union certification or decertification votes, which are the only union-related votes regulated by state law. Iglitzen was referring to internal union leadership and contract ratification votes.
Typically, unions refuse to let workers who are not officially “members in good standing” participate in contract ratification votes. In a hearing earlier in the session, the director of the Public Employment Relations Commission admitted that such elections are a matter of “internal union business” and are unregulated by the state.
By clarifying that the state cannot deduct dues from IPs that have never signed a union membership card, SB 5671 could expand the number of IPs that SEIU 775 considers to be non-members. But if any providers are “stripped of their democratic rights,” it will be because SEIU 775’s internal policy prevents non-members from participating in union elections, not because SB 5671 required it.
Watch the committee hearing on SB 5671 below:
When it came time to vote on the bill, longtime Teamster Sen. Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle) simply said it was a “bad bill.” Sen. Steve Conway, a 20-year UFCW employee, argued that the legislature should let the courts sort out the implementation of Harris in Washington, even if it costs taxpayers money. Just a few minutes earlier, however, Conway had voiced his concern about how the courts could “come right back at us” if the legislature passed a workers’ compensation bill he didn’t approve of.
Sen. Baumgartner, who chairs the committee, countered that the state should take action to prevent the expense of unnecessary litigation:
“…far better for the state to take action that we know is in line with the courts on this issue so we absolve ourself of any more expensive lawsuits down the line which, quite frankly, we just can’t afford with all the budget challenges that we do have. So I am asking for a yes vote on this to take a prudent step in limiting the state’s financial exposure.”
The bill was approved with the committee’s four Republicans voting “yes” and the three Democrats voting “no.”
Watch video of the vote on SB 5671 below: