Democrats and Governor Inslee push bill that would force newly freed caregivers back into union

by Jeff Rhodes   |    Freedom Foundation

The first full day of floor action in the Washington State Senate culminated in an hours-long fight stretching into the early morning hours over a bill that would restructure the working arrangements for thousands of Medicaid-paid home healthcare providers for no other reason than to force them back into a labor union from which many had only recently escaped.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Harris v. Quinn, Washington’s 35,000 individual providers (IPs) — considered public employees for the sole purpose of unionization under state law — have been able to choose for themselves whether to join a union and pay dues.

Senate Bill 6199 would strip of them of that right and once again make union participation a condition of employment by directing the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to contract with a private vender — called a “consumer directed employer” — to take over aspects of the individual provider program’s administration.

Under the legislation, IPs would become employees of the private contractor rather than the state and the patient-client.

The subtle-sounding change would remove them from the protections of the Harris decision and place them under the National Labor Relations Act, which permits employees in states without right-to-work protections, such as Washington, to be required to pay dues or fees to Service Employees International Union 775 as a condition of employment.

The measure was introduced by Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver) at the request of DSHS and Gov. Jay Inslee — who counts organized labor in general and SEIU 775 in particular among his most prolific campaign donors.

While DSHS argues the bill is an attempt to streamline the program, it’s actually projected to cost the state tens of millions of dollars.

More to the point, in a letter to the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee, DSHS Assistant Secretary Bill Moss conceded the bill would permit SEIU 775 to again require IPs to pay union dues under a “closed-shop” arrangement.

Public records obtained by the Freedom Foundation reveal SEIU has sought such a change in IPs’ employment status since before the Harris decision. A memo prepared for Gov. Jay Inslee by the Office of Financial Management in advance of a June 2014 meeting between Inslee and SEIU 775 president David Rolf indicated one way for the union to work around Harris would be to have the state “contract with an outside entity to run the homecare system, making IPs private-sector employees.”

The 2018 legislative session is the first time Democrats have had unified control of state government since Harris, and is the first time such legislation has been introduced.

In a newsletter released this week, Sen. John Braun (R-Centalia) called SB 6199, “…the most disingenuous and cynical bill in Olympia,” while the Seattle Times editorial board urged legislators not to “cave to in-home care union.”

Debate on SB 6199 began Wednesday night around 10 p.m. and lasted until approximately 12:30 a.m. Senate Republicans proposed a series of amendments to the bill, including:

  • protecting the ability of IPs to make their own decisions about whether to join and financially support SEIU;
  • limiting contracts between DSHS and the consumer directed employer to four years’ duration instead of indefinitely, and requiring the agency to periodically re-evaluate whether more qualified vendors exist;
  • eliminating a provision in the bill exempting DSHS from having to use standard competitive procurement procedures, including complying with ethics requirements, when selecting a consumer directed employer;
  • requiring the consumer directed employer to comply with the state Public Records Act; and,
  • preventing conflicts of interest by prohibiting the consumer directed employer from having any affiliation with the union representing IPs.

Each amendment was rejected by the Democratic majority in recorded, party-line votes.

“This is special interest politics at its worst,” said Maxford Nelsen, labor policy director for the Freedom Foundation. “SB 5199 is a bad deal for taxpayers, and it adds more bureaucracy to an already-complicated network of public and private entities that is difficult for caregivers to navigate. The sole purpose of the bill is to turn back the clock on workers’ rights and force family caregivers back into SEIU.”

“SB 6199 would create a complicated administrative nightmare for caregivers,” said Joy Smith, a caregiver from Enumclaw. “The only reason SEIU 775 supports this bill is so they can force IPs like me back into the union against our will. This bill would force me to pay $1,000 a year for the union’s political agenda and six-figure salaries. It’s corrupt and its wrong.”

Payroll data obtained from the state indicate that more than 4,000 currently working IPs have resigned from SEIU. The Freedom Foundation estimates that forcing them all back into the union would result in a financial windfall for SEIU 775 of over $2.8 million per year. Much of the dues money collected by the union finds its way back into electoral politics.

In 2016, KUOW described SEIU as the “heavyweight champion of election influencing — or at least election spending — in Washington state: The union and its various locals gave $6.2 million to various ballot initiatives, candidates and Democratic Party organizations.”

SEIU 775’s election spending isn’t limited to Washington state. Just last year, the union donated $10,000 to Cathy Glasson’s gubernatorial campaign in Iowa.

As the debate dragged on, Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) voiced his concern about the bill being rushed through “in the dark of night.”

Ultimately, the Senate voted to resume debate on the bill on Friday and adjourned.

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