Washington state has the third-highest rate of union membership in the country, after New York and Hawaii. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 only applies to workers in the public sector, private-sector unions here said they face implications as well.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court said that public-sector workers don’t have to pay fees to unions that represent them.
Lynne Dodson, secretary treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, said many unions that people think of as representing private-sector workers also represent government employees. For example, the United Auto Workers represents some employees at the University of Washington.
“It’s not at all unusual for private-sector unions to have some of their members in the public sector,” she said. “So this will impact them very directly if they lose membership from the public sector. That’s going to impact their overall finances.”
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, District 751, represents about 30,000 workers across the state. Most of the employees work in the private sector, for example, at Boeing factories.
But about 50 of them work in the public sector for a fire department and irrigation districts in Eastern Washington, so the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus applies to those workers, said Jon Holden, president of Machinists Union District 751.
Holden said his union is concerned that the court decision will embolden conservatives who want to pass national “right-to-work” legislation, which would allow workers to opt out of paying dues or fees to the unions that represent them.
“That would destroy our ability to fund the things necessary to represent our members and workers that care deeply about their bargaining agreements and set a higher standard of living with wages, benefits, (and) working conditions,” he said.
Washington does not have a right-to-work law, so contracts negotiated between private-sector employers and unions here can require that workers pay a fee to cover the cost of collective bargaining.
Twenty-eight states have passed right-to-work laws. Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa introduced national right-to-work legislation last year.