OLYMPIA —Democrats in the state Senate tried to advance union-backed legislation but debate was postponed after it stretched into the early-morning hours Thursday.
The News Tribune reports that the late-night wrangling was the latest skirmish in a yearslong fight between labor unions and the Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank that has campaigned to reduce the size and influence of public-sector unions. Part of that effort is notifying state workers that they are not required to pay union fees.
One of the measures would shield the birthdates of state employees from public disclosure. The other measure would overhaul the employment structure of home health care workers, also known as individual providers. Republicans were able to temporarily delay passage, but the measures could come up again on the floor later this week.
Service Employees International Union Local 775 has been trying to keep Olympia-based Freedom Foundation from seeking the contact information of the union’s members in order to tell them they don’t have to pay union fees or dues. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an Illinois case that home health care workers cannot be forced to pay union fees if they are not in a union.
The measure that looks to overhaul the home care worker structure aims to make those workers private employees by outsourcing the state’s contracting duties with a private vendor. The workers would technically be employees of the private entity although they would still bargain with the governor’s office and a 14-member board that includes state officials.
That private status would allow unions to create a shop where home-care workers must pay either union dues or agency fees if they don’t claim religious exemptions.
Maxford Nelsen, director of labor policy for the Freedom Foundation, estimated that such a shop could result in a windfall of more than $2 million a year for the union that represents more than 45,000 workers in various long-term care settings. Adam Glickman, secretary-treasurer of SEIU Chapter 775, declined to comment.
Republican Sen. John Braun, of Centralia, called the measures a “sweetheart” deal.
“This is the other side of the aisle doing the union’s bidding in the dark of night,” Braun said.
Democrats said they pushed into the night with the two bills because they are trying to pass as much legislation as possible ahead of a key deadline next Wednesday.
Democratic leaders largely dismissed the GOP claims that the home health care worker bill and the birthdates bill were handouts to unions. Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson of Maury Island said the home-care worker system needs a different format since the employees — oftentimes family members who are caring for other family members — are working with “some of our most fragile individuals and seniors.”
“So we are taking that action so we can go ahead and make sure that in the future there’s a clear definition of whether they’re a state employee or not,” she said.