Public union consent bill passes

Public union consent bill passes
The Washington Senate has approved SSHB 1575 regarding public employee membership in public sector unions in the aftermath of the 2018 Janus decision. Photo: freepik.com

The Washington Senate on April 12 passed legislation regarding public sector union membership in the wake of the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court Janus ruling. The bill had previously passed in the House by a 57-41 vote.

The 25-21 Senate vote came after lengthy debate on the Senate floor and numerous failed amendments were proposed by lawmakers who ultimately opposed the bill, while right to work advocates contemplating a legal challenge to the bill say it is intended to “kneecap” the Janus decision.

In a statement, Freedom Foundation Director of Labor Policy Max Nelsen called the legislation “a partisan political power play designed to protect union coffers and, in turn, the political campaigns they fund.” The think tank filed an amicus brief in the Janus decision, which the high court concluded that public workers cannot be forced to pay union fees per their right to free speech.

Sponsored by Majority Floor Leader Monica Jurado Stonier (D-49), SSHB 1575 protects public sector unions and state agencies from any potential lawsuit by employees to collect union fees paid prior to the Janus ruling. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that public workers can’t be forced to join unions, but they can be required to pay union dues or “agency fees,” for collective bargaining.

SSHB 1575 also specifies procedures for public unions to obtain consent from workers to deduct the fee from an individual’s paycheck through the employer, which includes “recorded voice authorization.” However, deductions can only be canceled through written authorization. A proposed amendment by Sen. John Braun (R-20) would have removed the voice authorization provision but was rejected. Another rejected amendment would have allowed employees to cancel membership at any time; the legislation allows unions to create stipulations around how and when membership can be terminated.

Majority Deputy Leader Rebecca Saldaña (D-37) argued the bill “clearly defines (the) relationship between the union and the employee.” However, Sen. Curtis King (R-14) said by passing the bill “we’re saying we don’t care what the employer wants, we don’t care what the employee wants to do, the employee is limited to what they can do – all we want to do is make sure they join a union.”

“Let them (unions) prove to the people that they want to join…that the benefits they provide are enough for them to say ‘Yeah I want to join a union,’” he added.

Among those opposed to the bill was Majority Caucus Vice Chair Bob Hasegawa (D-11), who did so because he felt the legislation was too anti-union because it removes union security clauses in collective bargaining agreements that require employees either be union members or pay dues to remain employed.

“There’s enough in the bill that I need to make sure that my vote goes toward supporting it when it comes to a vote,” he said. “But if my vote is not needed, I’m going to be a ‘no.’”

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