SEIU’s dues collection from home-care workers is illegal

Miranda Thorp is a caregiver for her daughter who, because of her disability, qualifies for state assistance through Medicaid. As her caregiver, the state pays Miranda to help reimburse her for the cost of caring for her daughter.

There are currently about 35,000 state-paid individual provider home-care aides (IPs) like Miranda across Washington state, many caring for family members. Unfortunately, thousands of these caregivers are being exploited by an aggressive labor union they want nothing to do with. A recently filed Freedom Foundation lawsuit seeks to end this mistreatment.

In 2001, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) successfully backed Initiative 775, which opened the door for SEIU to unionize IPs. In a little-publicized, low-turnout election, SEIU Local 775 was certified to act as the monopoly provider of workplace representation for all individual providers with only 6,575 votes.

But for these providers, “workplace representation” is a bit of a misnomer. IPs are among four employee groups in Washington considered public employees “solely for the purposes of collective bargaining.”

Even though IPs are essentially independent contractors for the state, they were put under Washington’s labor laws so the state can deduct union dues from their monthly reimbursements on SEIU’s behalf. Legally, IPs are employed by the persons receiving care, meaning there are no grievances or other traditional workplace issues for the union to deal with.

For its part, the union negotiates a new contract with the state every two years setting the Medicaid reimbursement rates for IPs, subject to legislative approval. For this limited service, SEIU 775 collects upwards of $20 million in dues each year and employs a staff of around 100.

Charging 3.2 percent of salary, SEIU 775 collects far more in dues from individual providers than many traditional unions. Dues for the Washington Federation of State Employees, for instance, are 1.5 percent of salary.

Flush with cash and with few obligations to its members, SEIU 775 bosses spend lavishly on advancing their far-left political agenda. By its own calculations, the union spends a whopping 40 percent of its budget on political activity.

Just this year, SEIU 775 contributed $10,000 to Jesús “Chuy” García’s unsuccessful campaign to unseat Chicago “Mayor 1 Percent” Rahm Emmanuel, even though the result of a municipal election in Illinois has zero impact on caregivers in Washington.

Not everyone enjoyed the arrangement. As one IP who cares for her son explained, “SEIU membership was forced upon me. They took money from our family every month without my permission and used it to promote policies I disagree with.”

The U.S. Supreme Court helped correct this violation of basic free speech rights last year in Harris v. Quinn by striking down SEIU’s money-making “scheme” as unconstitutional and allowing “partial public employees” around the country to cease paying dues to unions they don’t support.

State officials did the right thing for three of the four Washington unions affected by the decision and arranged to only withhold dues from workers who voluntarily authorize the deduction.

But SEIU 775 — the largest and most politically muscular of the four unions — received special treatment. Though the union now permits IPs to opt out of the union’s fees by submitting a written request — and hundreds have — the state agreed to facilitate SEIU 775’s continued automatic seizure of dues from all IPs without their permission. Miranda is one such IP.

Court filings indicate SEIU 775 is currently taking money from 6,000 other IPs who never signed a union membership card.

Fortunately, the practice is not only outrageous but illegal. State law clearly provides that, in the absence of a “union security” provision establishing mandatory dues payment (recognized as unconstitutional by Harris), the state can only collect union fees from IPs who have provided written authorization.

That’s why the Freedom Foundation recently filed suit on Miranda’s behalf to force the state and SEIU 775 to obey the law and stop illegally taking individual providers’ money.

Whether due to a magazine subscription scam or the machinations of a labor union, no one should be automatically charged for services they do not want and did not ask for.

With any luck, this litigation will be the beginning of the end of Washington state’s and SEIU 775’s exploitation of home-care workers like Miranda.

David Dewhirst is litigation counsel for the Freedom Foundation. Maxford Nelsen is labor policy analyst for the Olympia-based policy organization.

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