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Thousands of Workers Leave SEIU

Published:2015-10-08 Opinion
Thousands of Workers Leave SEIU    Print Snohomish Times    
Thousands of Workers Leave SEIU

When workers are allowed to freely choose whether to financially support a union and are informed of their rights, many of them head for the exit. That’s the takeaway from data recently obtained by the Freedom Foundation under the state Public Records Act.

The data offers the first glimpse of the effect the Freedom Foundation’s educational and outreach efforts have had on membership in two Washington unions.

Until the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 30, 2014, decision in Harris v. Quinn, family child care providers in Washington were required to pay union dues or fees to SEIU Local 925 as a condition of serving state-subsidized clients.

In Harris, the court ruled that “partial public employees” — workers paid by the state to provide services to clients eligible for state assistance, but not considered full public employees — could not be constitutionally required to pay any union dues or fees against their will.

According to data from the state Department of Social and Health Services, nearly half of Washington’s approximately 7,000 family child care providers have exercised their newly acknowledged rights and left SEIU 925 since the Harris decision. The percentage of providers paying dues to the union fell from 100 percent in July 2014 to 53.2 percent (3,738) in May 2015.

About a third of family child care providers had never signed a union membership card at the time Harris was decided. The ruling obligated the state to cease deducting dues from these nonmembers, which it did in August 2014.

However, neither SEIU 925 nor the state took action to inform family child care providers of their constitutional right to resign from the union. The Freedom Foundation obtained providers’ contact information from the state in October 2014 and, after defeating a subsequent legal challenge from SEIU 925 in court, began a wide-ranging educational campaign to inform providers of their ability to opt-out of the union. To date, the effort has included direct mail, email, phone calls, cable TV advertising and door-to-door canvassing.

As of May 2015, 3,286 family child providers (46.8 percent) were no longer in the union. Additional outreach efforts are ongoing.

State data indicates, however, that SEIU Local 775 — which represents individual provider home care aides (IPs) serving state-subsidized clients — has largely maintained its membership in the wake of the Harris decision.

As of May 2015 only about 2.5 percent (862) of the approximately 35,000 IPs had ceased financially supporting the union.

Three factors explain the disparity between the effect of the Harris decision on SEIU 925 and 775.

First, in the months following Harris, the state negotiated a “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) with each of the four affected unions to remove the union security (mandatory dues) provisions and bring the union dues deduction language in the respective collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) into compliance with the ruling.

While three of the four partial public employee MOUs, including SEIU 925’s, only permitted the state to deduct dues on the union’s behalf upon the written authorization of a provider, SEIU 775’s MOU obligated the state to continue automatically deducting dues from all IPs, even if the provider had never signed a union membership card. The union is allowing IPs to opt out of their automatic membership and dues payment, however, by submitting a written request.

The new 2015-17 CBAs, which took effect in June, contained similar provisions.

Only SEIU 775 knows for sure how many IPs have never signed membership cards but are nonetheless currently paying dues. However, in a declaration filed in March in the ongoing Centeno v. Quigley litigation, SEIU 775’s secretary-treasurer, Adam Glickman, admitted that about 6,000 current IPs had not signed union membership cards. According to the union’s circular reasoning, these providers are “members” because they are paying dues and are paying dues because they are “members,” despite never providing any indication that they wished to join the union and pay its dues.

The Centeno case is challenging SEIU 775’s practice of deducting dues without IPs’ consent on constitutional grounds.

Second, SEIU 775 litigation has so far blocked the Freedom Foundation’s request for IPs’ names under the Public Records Act, delaying the Freedom Foundation’s ability to inform IPs of their rights. A Thurston County trial court judge ruled against SEIU 775 in October 2014, but the union has appealed the decision.

Thirdly, SEIU 775 has used its state-funded platform at IP’s mandatory training and certification classes to falsely tell IPs that union membership remains mandatory.

Given the lack of effort by SEIU 775 and the state to inform IPs of their rights, nearly all of the decline in the union’s membership can likely be attributed to Freedom Foundation’s temporarily limited outreach to IPs.

SEIU 925’s experience with family child care providers clearly establishes that many — and perhaps most — unionized providers will leave the union if informed of their rights and not subjected to union coercion.

The Freedom Foundation will continue to do its utmost to ensure that all workers covered by Harris are aware of and able to exercise their constitutional liberties.

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