Washington State Workers Win Back Their Jobs

Published August 1, 2006

Ten Washington state employees who were forced from their jobs for refusing to pay union dues are back at work.

In June the state employees settled their class-action lawsuit against the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE). The union agreed to remedy its violations, rehire the fired employees, provide them back pay, and cover nominal damages and attorneys fees.

“These public servants never should have had to file a lawsuit in the first place in order for WFSE officials not to trample their basic constitutional rights,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation (NRTW), which provided legal assistance to the fired workers.

Denied Constitutional Rights

Several state government employees were terminated earlier this year for refusing to pay union dues. (See “State Worker Ousted for Not Joining Union,” Budget & Tax News, April 2006.)

In a lawsuit filed in March, 10 state employees charged the WFSE had denied them their constitutional due-process rights. Though the WFSE warned state employees in a May 2005 mailing that they would be fired if they refused to pay union dues, the notice failed to provide what NRTW called “certain constitutionally required safeguards of employees’ rights to ensure they are not forced to pay for more than the cost of collective bargaining. These safeguards include a verification or audit of union expenditures, as well as an explanation for the basis of the portions of the workers’ fees claimed to be chargeable.”

Dues Seizure Continues

WFSE officials temporarily halted the employee firings and promised to rehire all previously terminated employees. Though NRTW President Mark Mix called on the union to stop seizing dues and to return all dues taken from involuntary union members, the WFSE refused.

“Unions shouldn’t exist except through the voluntary choice of informed employees,” said Michael Reitz, director of labor policy for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank in Olympia. “Instead, unions are becoming the fourth branch of government through coercion and political clout. It’s absurd that a private organization has the power to control the state’s employment.”

Many public-sector workers in the state have undertaken efforts to decertify their unions. Some have filed a statewide citizens initiative to end the state’s mandatory dues requirement in collective bargaining contracts. The state enacted that requirement in the Washington Personnel System Reform Act of 2002.

Kristen Mercier ([email protected]) is a policy analyst for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.