Senate Bill 6199 isn’t about improving home care — it’s a bid to force all Medicaid-paid caregivers back into Service Employees International Union.
While the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last month in Janus v. AFSCME about whether to permit public employees to choose for themselves whether to financially support a labor union, the Washington state Legislature worked feverishly to reverse a previous Supreme Court ruling extending such rights to Medicaid-paid home-care aides.
The maneuver lays bare the determination of union-backed lawmakers to protect union treasuries at the expense of workers’ constitutional freedoms.
Before the high court’s 2014 Harris v. Quinn decision, states like Washington forced caregivers serving Medicaid-eligible disabled and elderly clients to assent to the seizure of union dues from their pay by the state.
After the court struck down such arrangements as unconstitutional “schemes,” making dues payment voluntary for caregivers, Gov. Jay Inslee bent over backward to assist Service Employees International Union — a major campaign donor — in collecting dues from as many of the state’s 36,000 caregivers as possible.
For instance, newly hired caregivers had to attend meetings in which SEIU organizers pressured them to sign nearly irrevocable union membership forms. Should a caregiver survive the ordeal without signing up, the state still automatically seized full dues from their pay until directed to stop in writing.
Despite such gimmicks, thousands of caregivers have successfully resigned from SEIU with Freedom Foundation assistance, costing the union about $2.8 million per year in lost dues.
Consequently, Inslee’s administration this year requested legislation to gut Harris entirely. Union-affiliated legislators, including one former SEIU employee, obliged with Senate Bill 6199.
The legislation would outsource caregivers’ employment administration from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to a private vendor.
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But instead of saving money, like contracting out is generally supposed to, SB 6199 will cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars per biennium. Furthermore, DSHS is exempted from complying with standard competitive contracting procedures, effectively granting Inslee’s department discretion to award an expensive, indefinite, sole-source contract to whomever it wishes.
The bill’s primary purpose isn’t to improve home care but to force all Medicaid-paid caregivers back into SEIU.
Harris protections apply to caregivers because of their unique legal status as “partial-public employees.” By making caregivers “employees” of a private company, however, SB 6199 arguably removes caregivers’ Harris rights and places them under the National Labor Relations Act. Since Washington lacks right-to-work protections, SEIU could again require caregivers to pay dues.
A memo prepared by Inslee’s staff indicates SEIU has sought such a legal change since Harris was decided, but this is the first year Democrats have controlled both houses of the Legislature.
Despite fierce resistance from minority Republicans — all 48 House Republicans walked off the floor in protest after being repeatedly silenced for discussing the bill’s political motivations — criticism from editorial boards and overwhelming opposition from caregivers, the Democratic majority muscled the bill through anyway.
The reasoning is straightforward, if morally bankrupt. When asked by The Seattle Times whether SB 6199 was about requiring caregivers to support his union, SEIU 775 president David Rolf replied, “Anything that allows for stronger unions … is obviously good in and of itself.”
Caregivers remain unconvinced but, as one parent caregiver told KING 5 News, “What are we going to do? How are we going to go up against a giant like [SEIU]?”
Though SB 6199’s passage will inevitably be subject to legal challenge, it may also inspire union-backed lawmakers in other states to take similar action.
Regardless, should Inslee sign SB 6199 in the coming days, it will send the unmistakable message that, for many ostensibly pro-worker politicians in Olympia, special-interest cronyism trumps both good government and workers’ constitutional liberties.