Legal fight over public union membership continues

Legal fight over public union membership continues
As the fight over public sector union membership continues, the Freedom Foundation has filed a lawsuit against the University of Washington regarding restrictions over members opting out of union membership. Photo: freepik.com

Since the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court Janus decision ruling that public employees cannot be compelled to pay union dues, the Washington state legislature has passed legislation intended to “soften” the blow of Janus that are now under legal scrutiny.

Among them is SSHB 1575, which allows unions to obtain membership consent via audio recording, but members who want to opt out must do so in writing and under whatever stipulations the union creates. Unions have also responded by adding new provisions to membership cards severely restricting when employees can opt out.

The Freedom Foundation has now filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of several University of Washington employees who have attempted to leave their union but continue to have dues taken from their paycheck by UW. Under SSHB 1575, an employer is required to deduct employee membership dues to the public union once consent is obtained and must receive authorization from the union, not the member, when to stop deducting it.

Freedom Foundation Senior Litigation Counsel James Abernathy said in a statement that “the whole point of Janus is to protect the First Amendment rights of public employees to not support a labor union. State laws that try to limit those rights are unconstitutional regardless of whether they were passed before or after Janus.”

Meanwhile, HB 1888 introduced by Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-11) this session would exempt public employees’ birthdays from disclosure under the Public Records Act (PRA). The bill received a Jan. 14 public hearing in the House Committee on State Government & Tribal Relations.

Ostensibly, the exemption protects employees from identity theft. At the public hearing, Hudgins told colleagues: “my work in cybersecurity has heightened my awareness of the risk to individuals. I do believe that as the employer of the state employees, our public servants, we shouldn’t make it so easy to have identity theft or have privacy harm to folks.”

However, Freedom Foundation Director of Labor Policy Maxford Nelson told the committee that the move is really intended to prevent them from contacting public employees. The organization’s request for public employee information from state agencies resulted in a lawsuit. In October, the State Supreme Court ruled that public employees’ birthdays are subject to public record requests.

“It was not until we initiated such efforts to inform public employees about their constitutional right to resign union membership or refrain from union membership that we started seeing litigation and legislation targeting this issue,” Nelson said to the committee. “We think that’s unfortunate.”

No further action on HB 1888 is scheduled at this time.

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