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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

July 22, 2014 at 6:14 PM

Report: SEIU halts mandatory fees for some workers

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month striking down mandatory payroll deductions for public-sector unions has started to show some impact in Washington state.

The Harris v. Quinn ruling said home-health care workers in Illinois could not be forced to pay fees to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to cover collective bargaining expenses.

Conservatives argued the ruling also would apply to Washington’s politically active SEIU branch – SEIU Healthcare 775NW, which represents 35,000 home-health-care workers who contract with the state. Workers, who frequently receive state money to care for disable relatives, ought to be able to opt out of union dues, the union critics argued.

Now that appears to be happening — at least on a limited basis. The Freedom Foundation, a conservative Olympia think tank, obtained and publicized a letter sent by SEIU to one home-health-care worker acknowledging that “in light of the uncertainty created” by the Supreme Court decision, the union would ask the state to “cease deduction of your fair-share fees.”

(Fair share fees have been historically charged to workers who don’t want to be union members, but who benefit from union collective bargaining representation.)

The worker, a Silverdale woman, confirmed to The Seattle Times she had received the letter, saying she’d asked for her money back after the court ruling. “I’m not a union person, never have been,” said the woman, who only wanted to be quoted by her first name, Marsha. She also asked for a refund of past union fees, a request the SEIU letter said it was analyzing.

Jackson Holtz, a spokesman for SEIU Healthcare 775NW, said the union would not comment on a “right-wing extremist press release” from the Freedom Foundation. He said the union is committed to “working to ensure there continues to be a vibrant home-health-care program in this state.”

The full scope of the Harris v. Quinn decision here remains to be seen. Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office continues to say its attorneys have reached no conclusion on how the decision will apply in Washington.

SEIU has been one of the state’s most politically active unions as a key ally for Democrats and a force behind minimum wage increases in Sea Tac and Seattle. David Rolf, president of SEIU Healthcare 775NW, was scheduled to be honored at the White House Tuesday, along with other activists, for his work promoting higher worker wages.

Maxford Nelsen, labor policy analyst with the Freedom Foundation, said the group will work to advertise the options available to workers who have been considered de facto SEIU members in the past.

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