In a series of lawsuits filed in Washington on the state and the district court levels, lawyers representing Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 775 are fighting the Freedom Foundation, a think tank based in the state, alleging the organization’s education efforts violate labor unions’ rights to collect dues money.
Lawyers representing the Freedom Foundation are litigating five separate lawsuits, in the King County Superior Court and state Appellate Court, that allege Freedom Foundation is illegally interfering with SEIU’s business model and conspiring to drive the union out of business by educating workers about their right to opt out of membership.
SEIU lawyers claim the Freedom Foundation violated the labor union’s right to privacy by obtaining the names of Washington health care workers pressed into membership in the union.
In two of the four lawsuits currently in the state’s Court of Appeals, in which SEIU is appealing a lower court’s decision, union lawyers are scheduled to submit legal briefs by July 26.
In the two cases in which Freedom Foundation initiated the appeal, the organization’s lawyers are scheduled to submit paperwork on that day.
In the fifth case, currently in King County Superior Court, a hearing was scheduled for June 8, but the case was reassigned to Judge Jeffrey M. Ramsdell, who recused himself on June 13. No hearing date had been scheduled as of late July.
Burden of Proof
Greg Overstreet, a managing attorney for the Freedom Foundation, says the burden of proof is on SEIU to prove Freedom Foundation isn’t allowed to educate workers about their rights.
“The unions need to explain why it’s constitutional to prevent us from speaking to people about their constitutional rights, not for us to prove anything,” Overstreet said. “The names of the providers are a matter of public record. They certainly were when the union requested them in order to unionize in the first place. They only started worrying about privacy after the Freedom Foundation used the same list to tell union members about their constitutional rights.”
The labor union is using the courts to engage in warfare against the Freedom Foundation, Overstreet says.
“Our situation very much resembles a siege, and we feel a little like the residents of Richmond in the closing days of the Civil War,” Overstreet said. “We’ve got all the tactical brilliance on our side, but they have 10 times as many cannons pointed at us, which is to be expected, since they’re buying them with someone else’s money.”
Erin Shannon, director of the Center for Small Business and Labor Reform at the Washington Policy Center, says SEIU regularly tries to bury its opponents in lawsuits and paperwork.
“I believe it is pretty clear the series of lawsuits filed by SEIU against the Freedom Foundation are designed to intimidate and harass the organization into silence and submission,” Shannon said. “This is actually not a new tactic for organized labor. Spending millions to game the legal system has become the modus operandi of SEIU.”
Everyone should be alarmed at SEIU’s efforts to use the government to keep people uninformed about their rights, Shannon says.
“I think the general public should be concerned, and even outraged, by the actions of SEIU,” Shannon said. “If not because of the outright bullying and intimidation tactics used against Freedom Foundation, then at the very least for working so hard to keep dues-paying day care and home care workers in the dark about their right to quit paying those union dues. It is the legal right of these workers to reject paying dues or agency fees to SEIU.
“Rather than work hard and spend money to show those workers the value of SEIU representation, so they might voluntarily choose to pay SEIU dues, SEIU is instead spending millions of dollars to ensure the workers they supposedly represent are kept in the dark about those rights,” Shannon said.