Lawsuit Challenges Union’s ‘Opt-Out’ Scheme

Lawsuit Challenges Union’s ‘Opt-Out’ Scheme
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Lawsuit Challenges Union’s ‘Opt-Out’ Scheme

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A Washington in-home caregiver and SEIU 775 – one of the state’s largest and most politically active labor organizations – will square off on Feb. 23 in the Washington State Supreme Court over the scheme by which the union has illegally siphoned millions of dollars in dues money from its members since 2014.

At issue is SEIU 775’s policy of assuming workers are union members – and asking the state’s Department of Social and Health Services to deduct monthly dues on their behalf – until the workers take affirmative steps to opt out.

“The entire scheme is upside-down,” said David Dewhirst, litigation counsel for the Freedom Foundation, which represents the plaintiff in this case and has filed dozens of lawsuits over the past three years targeting public-sector union abuses.
“Imagine if a private organization like the National Rifle Association could simply decide everyone who owned a gun benefited from its work – whether they agreed or not – and just started deducting dues from their paychecks without permission,” he said. “That’s exactly what the union is doing, with the state’s blessing.”

The Case

The suit, which names SEIU 775, DSHS and Gov. Jay Inslee as defendants, was filed by the Freedom Foundation on behalf of Miranda Thorpe, a homecare provider who cares for her daughter, Sarena.

When she became a caregiver, Thorpe made a conscious decision not to join SEIU 775, which represents around 35,000 Washingtonians being compensated with Medicaid funds for providing home healthcare services – typically to a disabled family member.
Thorpe never signed a card or gave permission to take dues from her paycheck. But sure enough, she realized after a few months of providing care the state was still deducting full union dues every month.

A Thurston County Superior Court judge rejected Thorpe’s claim and sided with the state and union. However, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously agreed to hear Miranda’s appeal directly, bypassing the Washington Court of Appeals.


The so-called “opt-out” policy was concocted by SEIU 775 and its allies in the governor’s office in 2014 following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that summer in Harris v. Quinn giving home healthcare providers like Thorpe the right to refuse to pay any dues or representation fees even in states like Washington that lack right-to-work laws.

Prior to the  ruling, the collective bargaining agreements negotiated by SEIU 775 and the state of Washington had always contained “union security” provisions that require every worker covered by the contract to either join or financially support the union or lose their jobs.

In September 2014 – just three months after the Harris ruling was issued – representatives from SEIU 775 and the state of Washington re-convened at the bargaining table to discuss the “uncertainty” wrought by the Supreme Court’s decision. Rather than just ceasing dues deductions until workers expressed a desire to join the union, negotiators agreed to remove the union security provision and replace it with an “opt-out” scheme.

Under this new formula, the state agreed to deduct full union dues from the payments to every homecare provider and send the money to SEIU 775 unless and until the provider completed a complicated opt-out process.

If the provider doesn’t learn of the scheme and exercise his or her right to opt out within one month, for example, they have no claim on the money the union has been unlawfully taking from them.  As a result, upwards of 5,000 to 6,000 providers who never signed union membership cards continue to have dues taken out – many of them without even knowing it’s happening.

“One of the Freedom Foundation’s most important functions is to contact these workers and tell them what the union doesn’t want them to know,” Dewhirst said. “At least half the people we talk to don’t even realize they’re in a union. And when they find out, they’re not happy.”

In just over two years, more than 10,000 members have defected from SEIU 775 and its sister union SEIU 925, which represents home-based childcare providers.
“These caregivers aren’t typical union workers, who are dealing with an adverse employer and unsafe working conditions,” Dewhirst said. “Their employers are the people to whom they provide care, and they perform a labor of love. Meanwhile, the union has constructed a deceitful system to circumvent these caregivers’ rights and divert millions of public assistance dollars to its own bank account. The truly disappointing thing is that the state has been 100 percent complicit. Hopefully, this case will end that scheme.”

“If the workers believe the union is performing a valuable service and choose to join and pay a portion of their wages as dues, that’s their constitutional right,” he said. “But the law in Washington demands that these workers have the right to decide before union dues are taken from their paychecks.”

The Freedom Foundation will begin airing 30-second TV spots in selected regional cable markets starting on Feb. 23 with Miranda Thorpe and other disgruntled Washington caregivers telling the story of their misadventures with SEIU 775.