Sometimes the simplest cases take the most patience and persistence. Take Olympia’s Freedom Foundation, for example. It wants to contact home care providers, who are paid through the state with Medicaid funds, with a simple message: you don’t have to join a union and pay dues if you’d rather not. The home care workers’ union, SEIU, is suing to prevent this from happening.
It’s a case I’ve been keeping my eye on from the start. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2014 that “quasi-public” employees, including home care workers, who are not actually state employees cannot be compelled to join a union or be forced to pay “representation” fees to one. The Freedom Foundation filed a public records request with the state for the list of home care workers so it could inform them of their new rights, but the SEIU filed suit to stop them.
It’s not hard to see why. The union prefers that home care workers stay in the dark about their options. SEIU wants them paying dues out of every paycheck, much of which goes to the union’s political efforts.
While SEIU’s motivation is clear, its path to victory in this case is not. At two court levels now, the union’s argument has been flatly rejected. SEIU contends that the Freedom Foundation’s request is for a “commercial” purpose, and since state law prohibits records request for commercial purposes, the state cannot give out the list of home care workers.
It’s an absurd argument. The law is in place to prevent data mining companies from filing records requests to build databases of phone and mailing lists (like requesting the name and address of everyone with a driving license, for instance). The Freedom Foundation will not derive any benefit that can be considered “commercial” from mailing home care workers to tell them they can choose now to quit paying dues to SEIU. The argument lost in trial court and now at the state Court of Appeals.
Despite two clear-cut victories, the Freedom Foundation has not yet been provided with the records it requested. There is one last hoop to jump through, at the state Supreme Court. No doubt SEIU will try to draw out that process for as long as possible, knowing that it is likely to lose at the next level too.
All it means is that its day of reckoning in this case is getting closer and closer. When it finally comes, some home care workers might be left asking SEIU: ‘Why did you work so hard and spend so much money to keep us in the dark?’