Freedom Foundation

Family Childcare Providers denied ability to organize, appeal in progress

On Jan. 18 the Freedom Foundation appealed a decision by the Public Employment Relations Commission to deny an unfair labor practice complaint lodged by several Washington state childcare providers wanting to disassociate themselves from their designated labor union and form a new group to represent their interests.

The petition was on behalf of members of the Pacific Northwest Child Care Association, an association of family childcare providers based in Spokane.

Under RCW 41.56, all family childcare providers are part of a single bargaining unit and may designate one union to represent them to their employer, the state. The current union representative is SEIU 925.

By law, any union member can trigger a “change of representative” election by demonstrating that 30 percent of their peers want one. The organizers of PNWCCA are confident at least 30 percent of caregivers represented by SEIU 925 would happily sign such a document. After all, only 34% of all childcare providers remain SEIU 925 members since 2014, when they were given the option to leave the union. Unfortunately, the group has no feasible way to contact other providers and organize a new union because the state refuses to grant it access to a current mailing list.

Until 2016, the list was considered public information available to anyone because the childcare providers are paid by Medicaid using taxpayer dollars. But that year, Washington labor unions contributed $2 million into a ballot measure, Initiative 1501, that exempted the contact information of SEIU members from standard public information requests.

Even after the measure passed, the union may still access current lists. But when PNWCCA requested it last year – solely for the purpose of contacting providers about a representation election, the state denied its request, citing I-1501.

PNWCCA subsequently filed a complaint with PERC, arguing it violated state labor laws to grant one private organization – SEIU 925 – access to a list of public employees while denying the same right to another, particularly one composed only of fellow childcare providers.

The complaint was denied in December, prompting the Freedom Foundation to take PNWCCA’s case, and appeal the ruling in Thurston County Superior Court.

Interfering with employees’ ability to certify a new union violates workers’ basic statutory rights. Moreover, it violates the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech, freedom of association, and equal protection rights.

The Freedom Foundation filed PNWCCA’s petition for review of the commission’s decision in Thurston County Superior Court, and our plan is to go directly to the Court of Appeals fighting for the family childcare providers’ First Amendment and statutory rights.