Big Labor Hit with Another Class Action Suit

Janus decision spurs Washington State suit seeking back wages

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July 9, 2018

The fallout from the Supreme Court's landmark Janus ruling continued as Washington state workers filed suit to recover their lost wages from forced unionism.

Several home health aides are suing Service Employees International Union Local 775 and the state to recover money deducted from Medicaid reimbursements designed to fund the care of disabled or elderly people. The state government automatically sent more than 3 percent of the provider payments to the union, despite the fact that workers never agreed to become members. The practice, according to the suit, violates both the U.S. and state constitutions.

"Plaintiffs and class members are not union members and never consented for the union or the state to withdraw union dues or dues equivalent fees from their wages, yet the state deducted such fees from their pay," the suit says. "Defendants conspired to deprive Plaintiffs and class members of their First Amendment rights by deducting union fees from their wages without their clear, prior, affirmative consent."

For years Washington state forced such providers, many of whom are caring for relatives, to pay a portion of those reimbursements to the union. The practice only stopped when the Supreme Court declared a similar policy in Illinois unconstitutional. That 2014 ruling led to the Supreme Court's June decision declaring mandatory payments to public sector unions, including SEIU, an unconstitutional violation of free speech in Janus.

The caregivers are receiving pro bono representation from the Freedom Foundation, a pro-free market think tank in the state. Foundation labor expert Maxford Nelson said the policy was exploitive and "wrong on every level."

"Any business that tried to charge customers without their permission would have the state attorney general trying to shut them down," he told the Washington Free Beacon. "We believe extracting union dues from caregivers' Medicaid checks without permission is not only unfair, but violates caregivers First Amendment rights."

The home health providers are asking for "punitive damages against defendants ... because their conduct, described above, was and is motivated by evil motive or intent, or involves reckless or callous indifference to the federal and state rights of plaintiffs and class members." They also are asking the judge to force the union and state to pay for legal fees. The Washington aides are not the first to demand that unions refund forced unions dues and fees. Former government workers have filed class action suits in seven states, including Washington, to repay past deductions.

Nelson said the Janus decision has settled the question of forced fee payments and "made it clear that unions can't take money out of public employees' pay without their affirmative consent." He said the onus should be on the unions to win the support of public sector workers or personal medical aides and that both groups are motivated by political support, rather than care for the aides.

"We believe the same principle protects these caregivers against being exploited by unions like SEIU 775 and politicians like Gov. Inslee," Nelson said. "SEIU 775 wants to fill its own coffers and Gov. Inslee wants union campaign contributions, so they assume silence means consent and take caregivers' money until and unless the caregiver objects."

Local 775 is an influential player in Washington. It has spent nearly $9.5 million on political contributions since 2002 at the state level, according to the National Institute on Money in Politics. Local 775 gave Inslee $7,400 in his 2012 and 2014 gubernatorial campaigns, while the national union contributed $10,000.

A spokesman for Gov. Inslee declined comment on the lawsuit, but reiterated the governor's opposition to Janus. Inslee issued a statement after the Janus decision was released, criticizing it as a "ruling designed to undermine public sector unions."

"All workers benefit from strong unions and their bargaining activities. Washington has been and will remain a state that believes in and supports the rights of all workers to organize, in both the public and private sector," he said. "We are confident organized labor will come through this fight stronger than before."

Local 775 did not return request for comment.

Published under: Big Labor , Unions