A state court dismissed a key union objection to a think tank's effort to inform home health aides that they are not obligated to pay union dues.
Service Employees International Union Local 775 filed suit to block the Freedom Foundation, a Washington State-based free-market think tank, from reaching out to home health aides to inform them they could no longer be compelled to pay union dues and fees following a 2014 Supreme Court ruling. King County Superior Court Judge Steve Rosen granted a summary judgment on Friday tossing the union's claim that the group's outreach constituted "tortious interference," in which a party causes economic harm to another.
Foundation attorney James Abernathy called the ruling on Friday a victory for free speech rights, saying, "the First Amendment won and SEIU lost" in a statement. The SEIU's contention that the foundation's outreach would prevent it from collecting expected revenue "was the heart of their case," according to Abernathy; the judge's dismissal could undermine the rest of the union's claims, allowing the organization to continue its outreach campaign.
"The Freedom Foundation has prevailed on the merits every time a judge has considered them in this lawsuit," foundation chief litigation counsel David Dewhirst said. "For the unions, this case isn't about the merits. It's about inflicting maximum damage against the Freedom Foundation through the discovery process. And it's also about stalling for time because with every day that goes by, more dues money comes out of the paychecks of people who may not even know they're in a union, let alone share its values."
SEIU Local 775 declined an interview request about the ruling or its effect on the lawsuit.
The Supreme Court ruled in Harris v. Quinn (2014) that state governments could not withdraw union dues from disability checks sent to home health aides, many of whom are caring for disabled relatives. The 5-4 ruling applied solely to an agreement established in Illinois under imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. However, the precedent would undo similar policies established in a dozen other states, including Washington.
SEIU Local 925 in Washington lost about half of its dues paying members after home daycare workers were no longer forced to keep paying dues, according a 2015 Freedom Foundation report. Local 775 has experienced a less dramatic loss in the wake of the ruling. In 2016, it had 41,326 members, according to its federal labor filings, down from 43,049 in 2015. However, that figure is roughly even to the 41,442 members in 2013, the last year before Harris v. Quinn.
Abernathy said the foundation intends to have the rest of the union's challenge dismissed following the judge's ruling.
"We plan to file further motions to have them dismissed," he said.