A powerful Washington State union has abandoned defending a forced dues scheme and shifted its tactics to appealing to home health workers to remain in the union.
A state policy has allowed SEIU Local 775 to automatically deduct dues payments from home health workers for years. However, that practice stands on shaky legal ground after the Supreme Court declared a similar policy in Illinois unconstitutional.
Local 775 is taking a proactive approach to retaining its unwilling dues payers voluntarily: The union sent a letter to home health providers, many of whom are caring for disabled loved ones, petitioning them to continue to pay union dues. The letter, which was obtained by the Freedom Foundation, a state think-tank, highlights the benefits the union has obtained for providers.
"Add your name to the thousands of caregivers who are standing with our bargaining team for better care for our clients, and for the professional respect, wages, and benefits we deserve," 775 President David Rolf says in the letter.
The union is hoping to avoid seeing its membership rolls fall as a result of the Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn decision, which found Illinois had violated the rights of home healthcare workers by forcing them to pay union dues.
"[Caretakers] are much different from public employees," Justice Samuel Alito said in the 5-4 decision. "Unlike full-fledged public employees, PAs are almost entirely answerable to the customers and not to the State, do not enjoy most of the rights and benefits that inure to state employees, and are not indemnified by the State for claims against them arising from actions taken during the course of their employment."
The ruling was limited in scope, eliminating Illinois’ scheme while leaving in place similar policies in about 10 other states. However, unions in those states are coming to terms with the fact that their policies may not withstand legal scrutiny.
Public sector unions have netted tens of millions of dollars each year from similar forced dues rules. SEIU chapters in Massachusetts and Minnesota announced that they would stop collecting forced dues in the wake of the ruling. In July, a Washington SEIU official indicated that Local 775 would follow suit.
Adam Glickman, secretary treasurer of SEIU Local 775, sent a letter to a home healthcare worker who objected to paying dues, saying that the union would no longer automatically deduct payments from the person’s checks. He also acknowledged that the union would consider refunding past dues.
"In light of the uncertainty created by the United States Supreme Court’s June 30, 2014, decisions in Harris v. Quinn, the union has asked the State to cease deduction of your fair-share fees. No such fees will be deducted from your future paychecks," Glickman said.
However, the latest letter said the union will only provide a 15-day window for providers to halt their dues payments.
"This authorization is irrevocable for a period of one year from the date of execution and from year to year thereafter unless not less than thirty (30) and more than forty-five (45) days prior to the annual anniversary date of this authorization," the union missive stated.
Maxford Nelsen, a labor policy analyst at the Freedom Foundation, said that the union is limiting the constitutional rights of the caregivers by giving them such a small window.
"If SEIU 775 truly wants to seek the best interests of ‘working families,’ it should stop seeking to cheat individual providers out of their constitutional rights to choose for themselves whether to associate with the union," he said in a blog post.