House passes new “consent” bill for public worker unions

House passes new
: The state House has approved a bill concerning how public sector unions can obtain consent from workers for union membership. Photo; freepik.com

Earlier this week House lawmakers approved in a 57-41 vote SSHB 1575 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) Janus ruling last year allowing public sector workers to avoid union membership dues.

For detractors, the bill makes public unions akin to “Hotel California” – easy to get in, but not to get out.

“We should be looking at this like a business model,” Rep. Vicki Kraft (R-17) told colleagues. “None of us would pay for a service unless we were truly getting value.”

Last year, SCOTUS’s Janus ruling overturned 22 state laws requiring state employees pay public unions a representation fee, even if they aren’t members. The majority opinion states that unions must obtain “affirmative consent” from workers in order to deduct from their paychecks. That ruling also ostensibly overturned a Washington state law passed last year creating an affirmative opt-out policy.

SSHB 1575, sponsored by Majority Floor Leader Monica Jurado Stonier (D-49), allows unions to obtain “written, electronic, or recorded voice authorization” for membership from workers. However, workers who want to opt out must do so in writing and under whatever restrictions or stipulations are created by the union as part of the membership agreement. The bill also states that a public employer must determine a worker’s membership from the union only. One of many rejected amendments would have required that employers receive written authorization by the worker before deducting union dues, while another failed amendment would have had the employer rather than the union obtain authorization from the worker.

The bill also creates legal immunity for all public agencies and unions who might be sued by workers to recover dues paid prior to Janus. A union would also have exclusive bargaining representation rights if it garners 50 percent rather than 70 percent of employees’ support for certain types of public workers. The companion bill is SB 5623 sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-24), which has been placed on seconding reading in the Rules Committee.

While Rep. Mike Sells (D-38) described SSHB 1575 as “a fair way to operate with those organizations,” Rep. Jeremie Dufault (R-15) told colleagues that the bill would create “mousetraps” for workers who may not realize what they are agreeing to under the membership terms.

“This bill directly undermines the Constitution of the United States,” he added. “If they want to join a union, they agree to do so. If any of those groups or individuals do not wish to participate, then they also have a right….to not participate.”

Washington Policy Center Small Business Director Erin Shannon told Lens that the ability to obtain “consent” from workers by voice recording creates ambiguity. “Without seeing things in writing, how can workers really understand what they are agreeing to? You don’t know what these union representatives are going to say on the phone.”

Others argued that the bill sets up legal risks for state agencies in the event that they deduct dues at the behest of a union that failed to obtain the worker’s consent. A rejected amendment would have allowed those public employers to be immune from “all claims, demands, suits, or other forms of liability.”

In a statement, Freedom Foundation Director of Labor Policy Maxford Nelsen said a lawsuit is likely if the bill is passed, calling it “an exercise of raw political power that only benefits government unions and the politicians whose campaigns will benefit from the dues seized from public employees’ wages. There is simply no legitimate justification for permitting unions’ use of unethical and coercive tactics to take money from public employees.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.

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