Late Wednesday evening, Democrats in the Washington State Legislature passed two more bills in a series designed to pay back government unions — one of the party’s largest sources of campaign donations — by attacking the First Amendment rights of public employees.
In the state House, Democrats passed HB 2751 along party lines, while their colleagues in the Senate passed SB 6229 with the support of two Republicans.
Like SB 6079 passed along party lines by the state Senate Saturday, both bills are a direct response to a blockbuster case currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, Janus v. AFSCME Council 31.
The court’s decision in the case, expected in June, is widely anticipated to strike down as unconstitutional state laws requiring public employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.
Current state law allows unions to have public employees fired for refusing to pay union dues or fees.
Introduced by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), a member of the International Association of Fire Fighters, SB 6229 and its House companion HB 2624 would require government employers to provide union organizers the opportunity for a captive-audience meeting with newly hired public employees lasting at least 30 minutes.
The purpose of such meetings is to pressure public employees into signing union membership forms authorizing the deduction of dues from their pay and making it very difficult for the employee to cancel the deductions.
Major government unions in Washington—such as the Washington Federation of State Employees, Teamsters Local 117 and the Public School Employees of Washington/SEIU 1948—are already distributing such membership cards.
The bill mirrors an arrangement put into place by SEIU 775 and Gov. Jay Inslee after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 Harris v. Quinn decision established that home care aides serving Medicaid clients could not be forced to financially support a union against their will.
In public records, staff at the Department of Social and Health Services describe the behavior of union organizers conducting the captive-audience meetings with caregivers as “aggressive,” “unprofessional,” “coercive,” and “bullying,” and report the union’s antics “makes the contracting process more challenging.”
Minority Republicans proposed a series of amendments to improve the bill that were rejected by Democrats. Some of the amendments included:
- allowing employers to observe the captive-audience meetings;
- prohibiting unions from using the captive-audience sessions as opportunity to coerce public employees into contributing to political committees;
- requiring that employees be presented with neutral information about their rights to join or refrain from joining a union; and
- prohibiting unions from using the meetings to engage in “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” under the state Consumer Protection Act.
While majority Democrats did approve an amendment acknowledging that public employees could not be required to attend the captive-audience meetings, they rejected another which would have provided that employees be informed that attendance was optional.
“There’s nothing wrong with unions being able to provide public employees with information, but this bill allows unions to employ whatever coercive and deceptive tactics they need to get employees to sign away their rights on the dotted line,” said Freedom Foundation director of labor policy Maxford Nelsen. “The fact that unions have so little accountability under the law for their behavior is astounding. Businesses would never be able to get away with anything like this, and neither should unions.”
More information about SB 6229 and its companion HB 2624 is available here.
To enable government unions to maximize their ability to collect union dues in the event they lose in Janus, HB 2751 and its Senate companion SB 6296 would put in place the legal framework necessary to require government employers to seize full union dues from employees’ pay automatically, even if the employee never joined the union or authorized the deductions.
Assuming the court rules in their favor, employees would have the ability to opt out of the dues deductions after the fact, if they know they have the option to and what procedures to follow to cancel the deductions.
If the court rules in favor of the union, the current system in which the deduction of union dues or fees is mandatory would remain in place.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver) is a member of the Washington Education Association. In the Senate, SB 6296 is sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), a former organizer for SEIU Local 6.
Like SB 6229, the precedent for HB 2751 was set by Gov. Inslee and SEIU 775 after the Harris decision. Since that decision, the state has automatically withheld full union dues from caregivers’ pay. As a result of the scheme, thousands of caregivers have union dues seized from their pay by the state without their permission and often without their knowledge.
One such caregiver, Miranda Thorpe, testified against the bill in committee, arguing that,
…allowing unions to take money from caregivers without permission is hurting families and is immoral on its face… Senate Bill 6296 attempts to do the same thing to public employees that SEIU and Gov. Inslee did to caregivers after the Harris decision… No worker, whether a caregiver or a public employee, should have union dues taken out of their pay without their permission.
Retired Kent school teacher Jim Johnson also opposed the legislation, stating:
It’s not that I’m against (unions); I think it’s just wrong that the union is allowed to just take our money. I think this is absolutely inappropriate.
This is nothing less than a preemptive assault against the First Amendment rights of public employees,” said Nelsen. “The sole purpose of this bill is to reward, with other people’s money, the biggest campaign contributor to Washington Democrats—government unions. The idea that a private special interest group should be granted a legal right to seize money from public employees’ pay without their permission is just outrageous.
More information about HB 2751 and its companion SB 6296 is available here.