Lawsuit filed over unions’ exclusive access to new Washington employees

Lawsuit filed over unions’ exclusive access to new Washington employees
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Lawsuit filed over unions’ exclusive access to new Washington employees

(OLYMPIA, Wash.) ­— The state of Washington’s practice of granting labor unions — and only labor unions — access to newly hired state employees is the subject of a new lawsuit.

The suit was filed on December 21, 2021, by the Freedom Foundation, a national policy organization spotlighting the abuses of public-sector unions in all 50 states.

Filed with the U.S. District Court in Tacoma, targets Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries and its assistant director of human resources, Heather Normoyle, because the agency in October denied the Freedom Foundation’s request to speak to the same new hires, to offer an alternative to the unions’ blatant, unchallenged recruiting activities.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in both 2014 and again in 2018, issued rulings whose intent was to make union membership and dues deductions voluntary for government employees. Anticipating these decisions and terrified their members would leave in droves, the unions representing thousands of Washington public employees worked with the state to modify their existing collective bargaining agreements.

Among the new provisions agreed to was one that permitted union operatives a 30-minute meeting with newly hired employees, presumably to explain union benefits and procedures.

In practice, however, these sessions typically turn into high-pressure, and completely disingenuous, sales pitches.

Not surprisingly, neither the state nor the union representative ever mentions that participation at the “orientation” and even union membership itself are entirely voluntary.

Because the Freedom Foundation’s primary focus is informing public employees about their newly affirmed opt-out rights, the meetings also regularly bash the organization.

Several months ago, for example, the Freedom Foundation came into possession of an audio tape of a session conducted earlier in the year for fledgling L&I employees by Matthew Reiter on behalf of AFSCME Council 28. During his remarks, Reiter accused the Freedom Foundation of being a “dark force” that was actively lobbying for legislation that would invalidate L&I’s contract with the workers, defund their healthcare and privatize the agency.

None of the allegations was true.

Reiter then showed a PowerPoint slide titled “Wish List for State Employees,” which he claimed came from the Freedom Foundation’s own website.

The list, which included bulleted items such as “freeze all hiring,” “lay off employees,” “cut pensions,” “raise the retirement age” and “reduce benefits” was, in fact, produced by Accountable Northwest — a dark-money splinter group created in 2015 and funded entirely by unions whose sole purpose is to discredit the Freedom Foundation by misrepresenting its positions.

The wish list was loosely based on a document prepared more than 10 years ago by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), with whom the Freedom Foundation is affiliated.

A former Freedom Foundation staff member helped draft the document, but in no way does it represent the organization’s goals then or now.

Nor has anyone from the Freedom Foundation ever actively lobbied for legislation of that sort.

On Aug. 31, the Freedom Foundation made a formal request to L&I that it be allowed to offer a 15-minute rebuttal to the union presentation. Normoyle denied the request, arguing that a union’s role as sole representative of a particular bargaining unit justified giving it exclusive access to new hires.

“That may be her position — and the unions’ — but the Constitution sees it differently,” said Freedom Foundation CEO Aaron Withe. “Under the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause, we have as much right to make a presentation to these employees as they do. It seems like the least they can do, considering we’re the ones being lied about.”

The suit demands a declaratory judgment that the exclusive-access meetings are wrong and an order to discontinue the practice of treating the Foundation differently.