A Washington state union allegedly used pressure tactics and misleading questions to trick people into remaining members, according to court documents obtained by InsideSources.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) filed a lawsuit arguing a worker choice campaign was interfering with a protected contractual relationship. The Freedom Foundation had launched the campaign to educate home healthcare providers in the state of their right to leave the union. SEIU Local 775 filed the lawsuit hoping to end the campaign.
As part of the lawsuit, Chad Elbandagji, a former SEIU employee, submitted a document to the courts Oct. 9 to correct mistakes in his earlier sworn testimony. He was working for the union as an internal staff member until he got fired in 2015. His statement claims that union organizers were told to pressure people to keep membership up.
“When at SEIU we had quotas of how many people we had to sign up members of the union,” Elbandagji states in the document, which was obtained by InsideSources. “If someone opted out of the union, we were told to call them and pressure them to sign back up, and we took ‘oral’ membership card agreements that I do not think were actually valid.”
Elbandagji also alleges that the union mistreated its own employees and acted paranoid when it came to the lawsuit. SEIU Local 775 fired him when it suspected he was working with the Freedom Foundation. Elbandagji counters that he did not start communicating with the foundation until after he was fired.
“For example, if a person said they did not want to join the union we were told to ask ‘well, would you like insurance,’ and if they said ‘yes’ to that, even if they said yes, but they didn’t want to join the union to record that as a yes to signing the membership card,” Elbandagji said.
Elbandagji adds that he was unable to hire a lawyer at the time that he gave his sworn testimony in September 2016. Union lawyers had warned him that he would be fined by the court if he didn’t attend. He wasn’t even able to afford a copy of his testimony which he originally thought would be provided. The Freedom Foundation paid for a copy and gave it to him upon his request.
The Freedom Foundation is a free-market think tank based in Washington state. SEIU Local 775 filed the lawsuit against the foundation on the grounds that there has been tortious interference. The union is claiming the foundation unlawfully interfered with a contractual or business relationships to cause economic harm.
SEIU Local 775 recently hit a major setback in its efforts to stop the educational campaign. Seattle Superior Court Judge Steve Rosen ruled Friday that the outreach efforts by the foundation are a legitimate expression of free speech. The decision essentially dismissed the central claim in the union lawsuit.
The Freedom Foundation launched the educational campaign with the intent of informing union members of their rights. Many of the members weren’t traditional employees but rather home-based healthcare providers who collected Medicaid funds. The U.S. Supreme Court made union dues optional for those workers in the 2014 case Harris v. Quinn.
The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act allowed labor unions in that state to collect fees from personal care assistants who collected Medicaid funds. The law determined they were state employees for the purposes of union bargaining. The Supreme Court ruled the providers could not be compelled to fund union activities since they were not state employees.
The Supreme Court decision set a precedent which banned similar activities in other states. The Freedom Foundation responded by undertaking a series of outreach programs to inform members of their rights to become nonmembers in order to opt-out of paying dues. The foundation warned the union was trying to actively suppress the information.
SEIU Local 775 did not respond to a request for comment by InsideSources.