Politics & Government

SEIU appears to be offering some home-care workers a way to avoid paying union dues or ‘shop fees’

Several dozen home-care workers in Washington have been told by their union that they can avoid paying any union-related fees or dues in the wake of last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Harris v. Quinn case.

The high court ruling left open the greater possibility that home care workers, who are not state employees but are paid out of the state-run Medicaid program, could opt out of paying fees as well as dues.

The notice to workers appears to have gone from Service Employees International Union 775 to select home care workers who have already objected to being in the union. News of the notice came from a top critic of SEIU 775—The Freedom Foundation, a right-of-center think tank in Olympia—which posted the letter from a top union officer on its website.

TFF, which has hinted it might sue to enforce its interpretation of the court ruling on SEIU, also claimed in a news release that the union capitulated. It argued the union should go further.

“While we’re glad to see that SEIU 775 has wisely decided to acknowledge the requests of workers who do not wish to support the union, we will not assume that the union will undertake any effort to inform workers of their new rights,” foundation labor-policy analyst Max Nelsen said in the news release. “We continue to encourage the full implementation of the Harris decision in Washington.”

The foundation, which has a long record of opposing labor unions, has outlined four groups of employees – including child care providers, language interpreters and some adult family home operators – that may opt out of paying fees under the court ruling.

SEIU 775 spokesman Jackson Holtz refused to confirm or deny Monday that the union sent the notice, but he’s said previously that very few of the more than 40,000 home care workers represented by SEIU have objected to being in the union or paying dues. Documents on file at the U.S. Department of Labor show the union had about 75 such workers in 2013.

“We’re not going to comment about our communication with members, and I’m not going to comment on right-wing extremists’ press release,’’ Holtz said by telephone.

The state Department of Social and Health Services, which oversees Medicaid payments to home-care workers that are hired by low-income elderly adults and the disabled, was unable to say immediately how many workers are affected, according to spokeswoman Kathy Spears.

The SEIU letter notes that the union had received the workers’ requests for refunds of “fair share” or “shop fees” paid previously. Shop fees are typically paid by those who opt out of union membership to cover the cost of bargaining, which is presumed to give the workers a benefit in pay and benefits.

“We are analyzing the potential effect of the Court decision on our local union and have not made any decision about refunds,” says the letter from SEIU 775 secretary-treasurer Adam Glickman. “We will be in touch as soon as we have determined how to process your request.’’

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s legal team also is still reviewing the court decision to see what impact it has on the collection of dues and fees, a spokeswoman said.