More than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that public employees can’t be forced to pay union fees, there is uncertainty whether Gov. Jay Inslee and his administration are fully implementing and abiding by the spirit of Janus, state Sen. Jan Angel said during a national panel discussion on the landmark court decision.
“This issue is about public employee choice and fairness. State employees deserve to know what their options are following the Janus decision. They should not have to jump through hoops to stop paying dues if that’s what they choose to do,” said Angel, R-Port Orchard.
“It’s been several weeks since the Supreme Court issued its ruling on Janus, but there already is a question of whether our state’s governor is circumventing it,” said Angel at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual conference in New Orleans. “Since the ruling in late June, the governor has received four letters from Washington Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler asking about implementing it so state employees are no longer forced to pay union fees, but there has been no written response from the governor. His silence on this is troubling and a bad sign.”
Angel, who provided a legislator’s perspective on the Janus panel, said she’s been told that the Inslee administration says it has stopped taking dues or fees from nonmember union workers.
“However, I’ve also been told that the unions consider pre-Janus membership agreements to be valid, so it sounds like the unions are continuing to take dues out of the paychecks of those state workers who either signed the new membership agreements from the start of 2018 until the Janus decision was announced, or any state employee who is still considered a full union member,” Angel said.
She stressed that the Inslee administration needs to fully inform union employees of their rights when it comes to paying dues and fees.
During the panel discussion, Angel cited a July 12 letter that Schoesler wrote to Inslee about Janus. Part of it reads:
“…it would appear WFSE (Washington Federation of State Employees) is maneuvering around the Janus decision and continuing to charge fees that violate the spirit of Janus. Recently, an employee who opted out of WFSE membership received a communication notifying them that the deduction of ‘representation fees’ ceased but on their next pay stub, they noticed that they were paying a new fee called ‘Maintenance of Membership.’
“This employee called the union again to have the fee removed. They also asked that the fee be credited, which many employees may not realize is an option. Apparently, there is only one person with this union who can perform that task and an employee would have to make the request to that person directly.”
Angel pointed to an Aug. 5 Wall Street Journal story about the ruling’s impact on state employee unions. The story mentioned Mike Stone, a child-support worker in Olympia who has been trying to stop paying dues to the Washington Federation of State Employees since the ruling in June. According to the story, the union denied his request because he signed a union card in March and did not notice that he had agreed to pay dues for the next year. “It was very small print, and unfortunately I missed that part,” Stone told the WSJ.
The Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank with an office in Olympia, recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of Stone and six other state employees who work for the Department of Health, Department of Social and Health Services, Department of Transportation, Health Care Authority or Department of Labor & Industries. The defendants are Inslee and the agency directors for the Office of Financial Management, DOH, DSHS, DOT and L&I. The lawsuit was filed with the U.S. District Court’s Western District in Tacoma.
“Washington has one of the highest union membership rates in the U.S., according to a U.S. Department of Labor report, so we want to make sure that our employees have choice and are treated fairly,” Angel said.