(OLYMPIA, Wash.) — The Washington State Senate today voted to approve House Bill 1575, a union-backed measure intended to kneecap Janus v. AFSCME, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling from last summer that recognized public employees’ First Amendment right to make their own decisions about whether to financially support a union.
Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) joined the chamber’s Republicans in voting against the bill. Sen. Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle) voted against the legislation because of his philosophical opposition to removing now-unenforceable mandatory union fee requirements from state laws. The remaining Democrats voted to pass it.
HB 1575 contains a series of modifications to state law that would:
- make it easy for unions to initiate dues deductions from public employees’ wages but difficult for those same employees to cancel the deductions;
- make it easier to unionize public employees; and,
- shield unions from legal liability under state law for illegally seizing money from nonmember’s wages.
“Union-backed lawmakers in Olympia are establishing quite a track record of passing illegal and unconstitutional laws to benefit their political allies at the expense of public employees’ civil liberties,” said Maxford Nelsen, the Freedom Foundation’s director of labor policy.
“We won’t stand by and allow the unions and the legislature to run roughshod over the constitution,” he said. “We look forward to challenging this power grab in court at the first possible opportunity.”
For decades, state law required public employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. That changed when the U.S. Supreme Court held in June 2018 that the First Amendment prohibits governments and unions from imposing such requirements on public employees.
Anticipating the Janus decision would end compelled union payments, the Washington State Legislature in 2018 passed HB 2751, sponsored by teachers’ union activist Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver), which would have required government employers to withhold union dues from public employees’ wages automatically and without authorization unless and until the employee objected.
Fortunately, HB 2751 never took effect. In an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court in support of plaintiff Mark Janus, the Freedom Foundation urged the court to not only find mandatory dues requirements unconstitutional, but to require that unions receive affirmative consent from public employees before deducting dues from their wages.
In its decision, the court held that, “(N)either an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”
This year, HB 1575, also authored by Rep. Stonier, allows unions to initiate dues deductions upon a public employee’s written, electronic or “recorded voice authorization” over the phone. In contrast, the bill specifies employees can only cancel dues deductions in writing.
Proposed amendments to remove the use of telephonic dues deduction authorizations and allow employees to cancel dues deductions using any of the means deemed permissible to authorize them were defeated along party lines.
The bill also requires employees to submit dues cancellation requests to their union and forbids employers from acting upon cancellation requests submitted by employees to their payroll department. This allows unions to enforce arbitrary restrictions on when, and under what circumstances, they will accept employees’ dues cancellations. Only after the union’s requirements are satisfied will it permit the employer to cease the deductions.
Lastly, HB 1575 strips public employees of the ability to vote on whether to unionize in a secret-ballot election administered by the Public Employment Relations Commission. Instead, future union organizing campaigns will use the inherently coercive and undemocratic cross-check process in which union organizers confront employees at work or at home and try to get them to sign union cards in person.
If more than half of the employees in a workplace sign such cards, the union is certified without a vote ever taking place.
An amendment to protect employees’ right to secret-ballot elections also failed along party lines.
The recalcitrance of union-backed lawmakers was on full display when they rejected an amendment along party lines that would have removed several references in state law to now unconstitutional mandatory union payment requirements. Most such references are already repealed by HB 1575, but several were missed in the original draft.
“Unions’ whole public justification for HB 1575 has been that it is needed to establish ‘clarity’ and ‘consistency’ in state laws after Janus,” said Nelsen.
“But their refusal to accept even technical corrections to a sloppily drafted bill means that some indisputably unconstitutional state laws will be repealed while others will be left on the books. That’s neither clear nor consistent. But it does re-emphasize that HB 1575 has never been anything more than a partisan political power play designed to protect union coffers and, in turn, the political campaigns they fund.
The state House of Representatives passed HB 1575 — also along party lines — earlier in the 2019 legislative session, and the Senate’s approval sends the bill to Gov. Jay Inslee who, as a staunch supporter of government unions, is expected to sign it into law.
The Freedom Foundation is a Northwest-based think and action tank promoting individual liberty, free enterprise and limited, accountable government.