SEIU strains to keep opt-out rights under wraps

Last year’s Harris v. Quinn ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court was a wake-up call for all government employee unions that rely on coercion to keep their membership rolls full. The ruling directly applies to workers in our state, but one local union is doing all it can to make sure its members never hear about it.

In Harris, the court ruled regarding “quasi-public” employees, such as home health care aides, that are paid through government but don’t actually work for it. The court said these types of workers cannot be forced to join a union or pay “representation fees” to one.

That “or” is pretty important. Public employees have long had the option to not join a union but are required to pay “fair share” fees for bargaining, even if they oppose the union’s goals, to prevent “free riding”. Now, quasi-public employees can opt out of paying into a union at all if they choose, and the Supreme Court has accepted a case for next term that could extend that free speech right to all public employees.

SEIU doesn’t want workers to know
Home health care workers in our state needn’t wait for any additional Supreme Court rulings to opt out of the Service Employees International Union 775 (SEIU). They can do so today – and that is the last thing their union wants them to know.

The Freedom Foundation filed a public records request last summer for a list of home health care workers (as well as a similar request for state-reimbursed childcare providers), with the intention of mailing those workers to fill them in on the case and their right to opt out of the union they had been forced to join.

SEIU 775 sued to stop that release and is doing whatever it can to slow it all down – even though it will ultimately lose the lawsuit. They know they stand to lose millions of dollars if many workers opt out of the union and decide to keep the 3.2% of their paychecks that currently goes to SEIU.

Maintaining a false impression
Workers are even being told at mandated, union-run training events that they are required to be part of SEIU to stay on the job. The Freedom Foundation released video this week of a trainer telling a class that they have to be in the union. Here is the exchange:

Class member: “Are you required to join the union?”

Williams: “A caregiver? Unless you’re being privately paid, yeah. And you want to be in the union, you really do. ”

Class member: “I didn’t want to be in it, because I just take care of my sister [inaudible].”

Williams: “Yeah, but the union’s what, you know, that’s where you get your raises, that’s where you’ve gotten your insurance and benefits.

Class member: “See, I don’t need none of that. That’s the thing, I don’t need none of that.” 

Williams: “Yeah, if you were being privately paid then it wouldn’t matter. Because if you work either directly through the state from DSHS or if you work for an agency, yeah, you’re part of the union. But they do do a lot of good.”

That is simply a lie, but for the union and the training system, the stakes are high.

Questions about forced unionization are difficult ones for unions to answer. After all, if the union is providing such a great service, why does the union think members won’t stay enrolled if they’re not forced to be? The answers to that walk a fine line between saying their membership is great and their membership is full of greedy free riders.

Regardless, after Harris SEIU can only keep its home health care and childcare members through persuasion, not coercion. The union would be better off trying to prove its value to members than trying to keep those workers in the dark about their rights.
-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.