Freedom Foundation

Union Schemes Shouldn’t Trump Workers’ Rights

Imagine becoming a Medicaid-funded home healthcare provider because you want to care for a friend, family member, or loved one.

At your mandatory initial orientation, you are greeted by a union representative who sings the praises of the union representing you. The fact that you never were given any opportunity to choose the union or vote on the matter is irrelevant, of course.

The state forces you to be represented by a union and gives that union access to you at your orientation and training sessions. The state also discloses your personal information to the union so that it can incessantly contact you by phone, mail, and at your home.

During the orientation, the union representative hands you a so-called “membership card” and tells you that signing it results in “no additional cost to you” and that you will even get “benefits” such as a $2,500 life insurance policy if you sign it. You sign the card. After all, why wouldn’t you?

Whoops. You just waived your First Amendment rights.

That’s right, you are now stuck paying 3.2 percent of your wages as union dues to SEIU 775 for at least a year, even if you object to doing so after learning of your constitutional right to not fund a labor union—which neither the State nor SEIU 775 bothered to mention.

This is the scheme hatched by Governor Jay Inslee and Service Employees International Union Local 775 for all providers when they first become providers.

“Why?” you may ask. Because it’s the best way to ensure the flow of money from Washington’s taxpayers directly to SEIU 775’s coffers and, in turn, the campaign contributions made by SEIU 775 to Inslee.

The SEIU 775 representative’s statements are deceptive and arguably fraudulent. The reason signing a “membership card” results in “no additional cost to you” is because the state is already deducting union dues from your paycheck without your consent and forwarding the money to SEIU 775.

To halt such deductions, providers must affirmatively object. Thus, signing the card does not increase dues the State is already deducting from your pay. What the SEIU 775 representative does not tell you is that signing the card does cost you your First Amendment rights.

If you object to dues payments three months later after learning of your constitutional rights – from the Freedom Foundation, for example – SEIU 775 sends you a letter explaining you must continue paying dues until a narrow two-week window opens nine months later.

SEIU 775’s fallback is insisting you failed to read the fine print of the membership card and that SEIU 775 mailed you a “notice” of your rights embedded in a single paragraph contained within a pro-union mailer—which you may or may not have ever received or read.

The kicker is that you never needed to sign the SEIU 775 “membership card” to become an SEIU 775 member, because SEIU 775 already considered you a member because you did not affirmatively object to such membership—something you never even realized you had to do.

Simply put, a union in Washington—a private corporation—can unilaterally deem you a member and start seizing money from your paycheck without your knowledge or consent.

The “membership card scheme” perpetrated against providers by Inslee (who agreed to the scheme) and SEIU 775 is nothing more than a ruse to get providers to waive their First Amendment right to not fund SEIU 775.

Governor Inslee’s and SEIU 775’s bullying is shameful.

The Freedom Foundation, along with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, is fighting this scheme by representing in federal court seven Washington providers who objected to union membership and dues payments, yet have been subjected by the State to the membership card scheme and thus forced to continue the payment of union dues to SEIU 775.

The plaintiff providers argue the scheme violates their First Amendment right to not fund a labor union, a right acknowledged by the United States Supreme Court in its 2014 decision Harris v. Quinn.

Not surprisingly, Inslee and SEIU 775 disagree. After all, the scheme netted SEIU 775 more than $20 million in union dues in 2016 alone, $6 million of which found its way into political campaigns—including Governor Inslee’s campaign coffers.

Freedom Foundation attorneys filed the case in the federal District Court for the Western District of Washington and Judge Ronald B. Leighton is currently deliberating on the arguments submitted by the parties. A decision in this case, Fisk, et al., v. Inslee, et al., No. 3:16-cv-05889, is expected within the month.