I-1501 sounds innocent, but it’s really about keeping workers in the dark

You have to give SEIU, one of the state’s largest public sector unions, one thing: it’s clever. SEIU has a talent for pushing self-interested ballot initiatives that sound like they’re noble and high-minded.

Its latest, I-1501, is being pitched as an initiative about privacy and security. Supposedly the purpose of I-1501 is to “increase penalties for criminal identity theft and consumer fraud targeting seniors and vulnerable individuals.” With more people than ever concerned about how much of their personal info is accessible, SEIU is banking on voters approving what sounds like a completely innocuous initiative.

In reality, I-1501 has a far different purpose. SEIU isn’t spending a big chunk of money ($1.2 million so far) because it is suddenly concerned about identity theft. The union is actually just trying to ensure its members – home health care workers – don’t find out that they can choose to leave the union and stop paying dues out of their paychecks.

Some workers cannot be forced to pay union dues
Home care workers have this right because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn. The court said that “quasi-public” employees such as home care workers cannot be forced to join a union, nor can they be required to pay dues or fees to one.

That means every state-paid home care worker (and child care worker) is free to quit the SEIU with no penalty, and they cannot be forced to have dues money automatically taken out of their paychecks.

The catch is that these workers have to affirmatively quit the union. Otherwise, the union they were originally forced to join will continue to take their dues money, which the State of Washington automatically deducts from paychecks and sends to the union.

Many don’t know they can leave SEIU if they choose
But how can workers decide to leave the union if they don’t know they have the option? That – workers knowing their rights and knowing they have a choice – is exactly what SEIU is working so hard to crush.

Shortly after the Harris ruling, the Freedom Foundation in Olympia filed a public records request for the names of home health care providers so it could send them mailers about the workers’ new rights. It was a standard public records request and well within the scope of our open government laws. SEIU sued to prevent the release of the names, but has lost at every judicial step along the way.

Same story as always – it’s all about the money
Keeping the dues money flowing into SEIU’s bank accounts is what I-1501 is really about. Because it has lost in the courts, SEIU is trying to write into law new exemptions from disclosure so that it can prevent its members from finding out the truth – that they don’t have to pay SEIU anything if they don’t want to.

That says a lot about the value SEIU thinks it provides its members. The union apparently believes that if home care workers know they can stop having dues deducted from their pay, they will leave SEIU in droves.

So instead of having to prove its usefulness – to show members that SEIU is worth the investment – the union is instead spending big money to keep workers in the dark about their rights.

That’s because those workers’ dues equal big money for SEIU, money it spends on politics and on large salaries for its leadership. Arguments about fighting identity theft in I-1501 are just the fig leaf of respectability SEIU is using to cover its naked ploy to keep its members uninformed.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.