Opinion: SCOTUS case could enhance public workers’ rights

  • George Will
  • Washington Post
12:00 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017 Opinion

SEATTLE — It is protected by Washington state’s lopsidedly Democratic political class, which knows who butters its bread. It has been provided with bespoke law, tailored for its comfort. Nevertheless, the Service Employees International Union has been so avaricious in its objectives and so thuggish in its methods that it has been bested by the Freedom Foundation.

This small conservative outfit, which punches above its weight and is led by Tom McCabe, relishes the SEIU’s accusation that it has committed “tortious interference” with “business expectancy.” This melodious legalese means that the Foundation is guilty of informing SEIU members and fee payers — many of them reluctant participants — of their right not to fill the SEIU’s coffers, from which flow contributions to Democrats.

“Individual providers” are home health care workers employed by those receiving the care who use their Medicaid stipends to pay the caregivers. In 2003, the Democratic-controlled Illinois state government imperiously declared thousands of these workers to be government employees simply because their pay comes from Medicaid, and gave the SEIU and a rival union the names and addresses of the workers to facilitate herding them into a union. The SEIU prevailed and began collecting a portion of the Medicaid payments as dues.

In 2014, however, the Supreme Court held that IPs, not being “full-fledged” government employees, have First Amendment rights of freedom of association and speech to choose not to support financially a union with whose activities they disagree. Washington’s state government makes IPs’ receipt of Medicaid subsidies contingent on association with the SEIU as their bargaining representative. So, the Foundation began notifying IPs of their right to opt out of SEIU fees.

When the Foundation sought information that is supposed to be public — lists of recipients of public funds — state agencies that are supposed to provide such lists “promptly” instead provided outdated lists 819 days later. Then the SEIU concocted a ballot initiative to carve an exemption from public disclosure laws in order to keep IPs’ identities secret. The Democratic attorney general, exercising his power to write tendentious titles for ballot questions, labeled this a measure to “increase the penalties for criminal identity theft and civil consumer fraud targeted at seniors or vulnerable individuals.” Actually, it was designed to protect the SEIU from seniors and vulnerable individuals understanding and exercising their rights.

But former employees of SEIU and its “training” organization gave the Foundation some lists of IPs. The Foundation’s outreach to IPs and other SEIU-represented caregivers caused the union to hemorrhage up to 400 opt-outs a day, and eventually a total of 10,000. SEIU lawyers, evidently hoping to bankrupt the Foundation with litigation expenses, filed three basically identical lawsuits — they deposed Foundation staff 15 times — forcing the Foundation to spend $1.5 million defending itself. But the “tortious interference” argument failed in court and now the Foundation is suing SEIU for abusing the judicial process, and is seeking reimbursement.

The U.S. Supreme Court probably will overturn a 1977 ruling that extracting compulsory union “agency fees” from public employees does not violate their First Amendment rights if the fees do not finance political activities. In Janus v. AFSCME, the court probably will recognize for all public employees the rights that the court’s 2014 decision protected for those who are less than “full-fledged” government workers. The unions will call this tortious interference with their business expectancies. Disinterested people will call it an affirmation of individuals’ constitutional rights.

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