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Lawsuit Challenges Automatic Deduction Of Union Dues For Home Care Workers In Wash.

The Service Employees International Union Healthcare 775 Northwest represents about 33,000 independent home care workers in Washington state. Their union dues are automatically deducted by the state of Washington, which pays the workers using public money, including Medicaid funds.

But a lawsuit is challenging that arrangement, drawing on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision (Harris v. Quinn), and that potentially threatens the union's financial strength. 

SEIU Healthcare 775 Northwest is a powerful force in the state. It has spent heavily in political campaigns, including the recent effort to pass a higher minimum wage in the city of SeaTac.

Home care workers Pamela Centeno, Mary Hoffman, Susan Routh and Janice Wilen are suing the state and the union, and seeking class-action status for their suit. They argue automatic deduction of union dues is unconstitutional because they are not full employees of the state. 

"We would like to see the state stop taking funds out of these independent providers’ paychecks and for the union to reimburse all these individuals for the funds they’ve taken from them," said Wright Noel, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

In Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court earlier this summer ruled that home care workers in Illinois are only partial public employees and therefore don’t have to support the union financially if they don’t want to.

Conservative groups in Washington state are pushing to have that applied here as well.

Jackson Holtz, a spokesman for SEIU Healthcare 775 Northwest, declined to comment on the lawsuit. He says its members will continue to fight to make sure home care workers earn a living wage. The union has recently been in negotiations with the state for a new contract. 

A spokeswoman for the Washington attorney general's office also declined to comment on the case. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.