SEIU-backed bill is power politics at its most brazen – and it stinks

The bill Senate Democrats tried to run Wednesday night on behalf of the Service Employees International Union 775 (SEIU) – a “major political contributor to Washington Democrats” – is “an inappropriate sweetheart deal that is trying to be muscled through by the union and the governor at a late hour.”

That straight-forward and blunt assessment is from Sen. Joe Fain (R-Auburn) after he and his GOP colleagues fought against SB 6199 past 1:00 a.m. Thursday. Democrats threw in the towel but plan to bring up the bill again later.

Fain’s take on the bill is a lot more honest than that of legislative Democrats, who cannot speak out loud the bill’s true purpose: To prevent home care workers from having a choice of whether to join SEIU or not. They don’t want workers to have a choice – but they know they shouldn’t say that.

Fain’s take was also a lot more up-front than SEIU’s – the union is maintaining radio silence. In every news story covering this bill, SEIU’s leaders declined comment and told reporters to talk to Gov. Jay Inslee’s DSHS or legislators instead. They don’t want to answer reporters’ questions or defend this legislation, which is pure power politics at its most brazen.

What’s this all about?
This legislation has been in the works since 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Harris v. Quinn that “quasi-public” employees – like the home care workers in SEIU, many of whom take care of family members – cannot be forced to join a union or pay fees to one. They are free to leave SEIU entirely, which the union doesn’t like at all. SEIU has been working with Gov. Inslee’s office since 2014 to get around this freedom and lock workers back into the union.

SEIU’s goals – which Inslee and legislative Democrats are lock-step on – are twofold: To work out a new system that will keep home care workers from leaving the union, and in the meantime to prevent the Freedom Foundation from contacting home care workers to let them know they can leave.

Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia), who also opposes the bill, said Thursday, “This isn’t a judgment about whether [home care workers] should be in the union or not be in the union. We think it should be their choice…The Supreme Court said they have a choice,” but SB 6199 is an attempt to take away that choice.

What this bill isn’t
SB 6199 certainly isn’t about saving money, or improving transparency, or providing better services to Medicaid clients. The bill would make an entity outside of state government home care workers’ official employer, meaning those workers wouldn’t have the same freedom to leave SEIU that they won in Quinn.

It will cost more money ($22-26 million more per biennium) to have a third-party entity administer the system rather than keeping it within DSHS. That’s money that could be spent on providing better services. It will make bargaining, which already takes place behind closed doors, even less transparent to the taxpayers.

Yet that’s not how this legislation was presented by Inslee’s DSHS or the bill’s sponsors, who tried to act like it was a simple contracting-out bill. No one was fooled. Braun noted, “When was the last time you saw the governor present a contracting-out bill, or the union support it?”

For that matter, DSHS is acting like it would be relieved to have the burden of administering the system taken on by an outside entity. When is the last time you heard a government agency – especially DSHS – say that?

If it were a real contracting-out bill, it would be an open competition and the usual ethics rules would be in place. Instead, the bill makes all kinds of exemptions that favor SEIU. The Freedom Foundation points out some of the important amendments Senate Republicans offered:

  • protecting the ability of IPs to make their own decisions about whether to join and financially support SEIU;
  • limiting contracts between DSHS and the consumer directed employer to four years’ duration instead of indefinitely, and requiring the agency to periodically re-evaluate whether more qualified vendors exist;
  • eliminating a provision in the bill exempting DSHS from having to use standard competitive procurement procedures, including complying with ethics requirements, when selecting a consumer directed employer;
  • requiring the consumer directed employer to comply with the state Public Records Act; and,
  • preventing conflicts of interest by prohibiting the consumer directed employer from having any affiliation with the union representing IPs.

Senate Democrats rejected all of them. They weren’t voting for what the taxpayers would want, they were voting for what SEIU wants.

Keeping the dues money flowing
Fain said, “It’s a straight-up giveaway…This isn’t about fixing any problems with our existing system, this is about a sweetheart deal to ensure a particular union in our state can grab a bunch of members back.”

That’s a lot clearer than the weak rationalization Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island) gave for supporting the bill. “I’m taking a look at making sure that our workers who are taking care of the most vulnerable folks in this state can continue operating and we believe at this point in time, this is the best way to go,” she said.

In contrast, Braun also spoke more clearly about his opposition – a sign that he believes what he’s saying. “The reality is, the governor and others receive substantial contributions from these organizations, and they are doing their bidding in the Legislature. And it gives the very strong appearance of impropriety,” he said.

It’s more than an appearance – it stinks to high heaven.
-Rob McKenna

On Saturday SB 6199 passed on a 26-21 vote and now heads to the House.

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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.