In Washington, state employees are suing to "escape" labor unions

The fallout from Janus v AFSCME continues as the summer grinds on. Out in Washington State, a number of state employees have been attempting to quite their public sector union and stop contributing dues to the organization ever since the Janus ruling was handed down. Surprisingly, they were told that the answer was no and they would have to remain dues-paying members for a longer period of time. That may sound like a crazy answer, but the workers have been unable to obtain satisfaction from union officials and are now going to court to “escape” the labor organization’s grip. (Fox News)

Several Washington state employees are suing for the right to break ties with their union, claiming the Supreme Court’s landmark Janus decision should allow them to cancel their membership immediately.

That June ruling said state government workers could not be forced to pay so-called “fair share” fees to support collective bargaining and other union activities. The decision delivered a blow to public-employee unions.

But the lawsuit filed Thursday, if successful, could point to further repercussions…

“I just want what’s right and fair, and the way the union has treated me since the Janus decision is not right, nor fair,” plaintiff Mike Stone, who works in the state’s Department of Social and Health Services, told Fox News. “WFSE doesn’t share my views or my values. I don’t want my money being used to support an organization I disagree with.”

The six employees are all members of the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE). This is a rather tricky situation, but if the workers manage to prevail it could be a bigger deal than even the Janus decision. The previous court ruling dealt with the extraction of dues from non-union members, but the plaintiffs here are arguing that if dues can’t be taken out of a worker’s paycheck by a union against their will, they should be allowed to stop being members and paying dues.

There’s a catch, however. The union is demonstrating that they signed a contract agreeing to be members and it doesn’t allow for them to change their status until a designated “escape period” which doesn’t come around until next year. (Not for nothing, but that sounds a little like forced labor to me.) So the unions definitely could have a point, holding a signed contract in their hands. But attorneys for the plaintiffs are making a strong argument in response. First of all, it wasn’t exactly optional for the workers to join and sign whatever contract was required because it was basically a condition for employment.

And second, they signed the contract prior to the Janus ruling, which they describe as being a time when “the right to not fund union advocacy was yet to be recognized.” Let’s stop for a moment and think about what that means. I’m already assuming this one could go all the way to the Supreme Court if the workers lose in the first round. But if they prevail, the courts will essentially be saying that workers have an established right to be free of unions if they wish. Considering how many public sector jobs around the country right now make union membership a condition of employment, the establishment of such a right would be massive.

We’ll be sure to keep an eye on this case as it moves forward. This one has the potential to completely rewrite the rules for how public sector unions operate.