As recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings have ended mandatory union dues requirements for workers paid by the government, unions have developed new tactics to try and maintain their members. While some have responded by working to improve and better market the value of their services, far too many have resorted to unsavory tactics designed to coerce or deceive employees into authorizing nearly irrevocable union dues deductions from their wages.
One of the worst offenders in this regard has been the Seattle-based Service Employees International Union Local 775 (SEIU 775), which represents individual provider home care aides (IPs) serving Medicaid-eligible clients in Washington state.
After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in Harris v. Quinn struck down compelled dues payments for IPs as unconstitutional under the First Amendment, SEIU 775 engineered a flurry of work-arounds, from seizing union dues from IPs’ wages without their consent, to pressuring IPs into signing up for union membership at state-required orientations, to forging IPs’ signatures on membership forms and more.
Even simple trickery is not beneath the union.
On Sept. 10, 2019, SEIU 775 emailed a group of IPs who had resigned their membership or never signed up in the first place. The subject line of the email read, “Time to update your information.” The body of the email read,
“It’s time to update your SEIU 775 member records and contact information. It only takes a few minutes, and will ensure you’re getting all the caregiver information you need. Click here to update your membership information.”
The email was deceptive for three reasons.
First, although it was sent to IPs who were not union members, the email clearly implied the recipient was already a member by asking them to “update your SEIU 775 member records and contact information.” Simply updating your contact information for an organization you’re already a member of requires less consideration than whether to sign up for membership in the first place.
Second, SEIU 775 wasn’t actually requesting updated contact information at all, but soliciting membership.
Clicking on the link provided in the email led to an online form on SEIU 775’s website. While the first page of the form asked the IP to provide his or her contact and personal information, the subsequent pages all contained authorizations for the union to collect dues and political contributions from the IPs’ wages and/or bank account. There was no way for an IP to provide contact information only and complete the form without agreeing to membership.
Third, SEIU 775 has set up a series of independent trusts under the banner of the SEIU 775 Benefits Group to administer certain state-funded employment benefits for IPs. These benefits are available to IPs regardless of their membership status with SEIU 775. Although SEIU 775 and the trusts are all legally distinct entities, they deliberately share similar branding and even use the same call center in SEIU 775’s headquarters building in downtown Seattle.
As a result, nonmember IPs are often confused about whether a communication is coming from SEIU 775, in which case their guard is up to avoid signing up for membership accidentally, or from the SEIU 775 Benefits Group, which may require legitimate action on the IPs’ part regarding their state-funded benefits.
To discourage such deceptive behavior in the future, the Freedom Foundation has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against SEIU 775 with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) on behalf of one of the IPs who received the email.
The complaint alleges that, by attempting to mislead IPs into signing up for union membership, SEIU 775 violated IPs’ statutorily protected right to refrain from joining a union or paying union dues.
If PERC agrees SEIU 775 committed an unfair labor practice and grants the IPs’ requested remedy, the union will have to send a notice to all IPs in the state informing them that it committed an unfair labor practice by deceptively camouflaging membership agreements as contact information update forms.
While doubtful, perhaps this complaint will be the one that convinces SEIU 775 executives to mend their ways. If not, it won’t be the last legal proceeding they have to navigate.