In my view

Letter: Union becomes less transparent and accountable

By Jeff Rhodes

SEIU 503’s latest act of desperation, revising its corporate status so that it’s no longer a recognized as a nonprofit by Oregon state laws, isn’t so much a change as a disguise — and not a very convincing one at that.

The image of an ostrich hiding its head in the sand comes to mind.

Make no mistake, though, the people SEIU 503 intends to fool — its members — won’t fall for it, and their next vote will be with their feet as they opt out of the organization in greater numbers than they are.

SEIU 503 announced last week that, in a hastily organized, crudely administered internal election, 91 percent of the state-compensated home health care workers represented by the union — those who bothered to vote, that is — had approved its “request” to be less transparent and less accountable to the rank and file.

As a result, SEIU 503 no longer has to hold annual meetings at which members might outnumber the union bully boys and start demanding answers.

Even worse, the union no longer has to allow members access to its membership information, thus preserving the monopoly SEIU 503 has over information that filters down to the workers it claims to represent.

Clearly, the union is in panic mode, and there’s little question what its leaders are trying to keep from them. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Harris v. Quinn that home-based child care and health care workers were not full-fledged government employees and couldn’t be forced to pay union dues or fees as most public-sector workers are.

SEIU 503 need look no further than its sister union, SEIU 925, which represents child care workers in Washington state, to see the future it faces. SEIU 925 wasn’t quite as nimble in its response to Harris, and the Freedom Foundation — a Washington-based think tank with a branch office in Salem — was able to contact the providers and inform them of their constitutional right to opt out.

Within two years, more than 60 percent of the SEIU 925’s membership had done just that.

SEIU 503 lost a lawsuit to one of its own members three years ago and was forced to hold annual meetings and turn its membership list to a disgruntled member.

But it wasn’t until the Freedom Foundation entered the game in 2016 that more drastic measures became necessary.

The election ballots originally were to have been mailed out two weeks ago, but the union botched the process by not using first-class postage as state law requires.

When the second mailing when out, SEIU 503 leaders — in true banana republic style — made sure every envelope included a letter informing the recipient of how he or she was expected to vote.

Not surprisingly, the news release announcing the measure had passed noted it had done so with a 91 percent margin. It neglected to mention, however, how many total votes were cast. Faced with the very real threat of retaliation and the futility of voting in an election you know is rigged, it’s possible the only votes were cast by a few hundred SEIU 503 activists — hardly a representative outcome when there are 30,000 home care workers participating in the program statewide and eligible to have their voices heard.

If the union wants to dispute that claim, it’s always free to release the hard numbers — but only after they’ve been audited and verified by an independent source.

In a very real sense, this was a race between the union leadership and its members, and the members lost. For all of SEIU 503’s gloating, the Freedom Foundation is no worse off than it was before the election and, given the peculiarities of nonprofit corporation laws, arguably has exciting new opportunities to thwart the union that didn’t exist before.

The members, however, are under the thumb of a union that’s even less transparent and accountable.

For that, they can blame the union, not the Freedom Foundation. And you can bet it won’t be too long before they do.

— Jeff Rhodes is the managing editor of Freedom Foundation.

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