In RCW 41.80, the state legislature granted private organizations the ability to secure a monopoly franchise over workplace representation services for state-funded employees. The Washington Federation of State Employees, council 28 of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (WFSE-AFSCME) has secured the privilege of providing workplace services to tens of thousands of various public employees.
Many believe the union arrangement is not a good fit.
They may be professionals or technicians who have the sophistication to manage their own affairs. Others find themselves lumped in with other employees whose interests cannot possibly be uniformly represented by one monolithic organization like WFSE.
Others find the aggressive politicking and use of dues to advance partisan causes, candidates and ideology distasteful. Still others believe that union officials take advantage of the power to force people to pay by overcharging and underperforming.
If you object to WFSE overcharging you for workplace representation, and you would rather reclaim these funds, then you may request to pay the reduced representation fee.
The union will still represent you in collective bargaining, contract management and grievance processing, but you will no longer have to contribute to causes unrelated to workplace representation like politics, marketing, litigation, ideological causes or other extraneous activities.
Unfortunately, unions are not governed by the usual consumer protection or anti-trust laws, so abuses of the privilege of collecting money are possible. For example:
They can charge whatever they wish. They can spend money on whatever they wish. They do not have to disclose how the money is spent to those who pay it. They can speak for employees without consulting or informing them. They can injure some members’ interests while advancing the interests of others. They can prevent employees from getting help in their workplace from other sources. They are not governed by any obligation to provide quality service, and they almost never have to seek reauthorization of their right to have this monopoly on workplace services.
The courts have acknowledged that these extraordinary powers can lead to abuses. Specifically, the court recognized that unions have power to wrongfully overcharge for services, and the power to compel people to fund a speech they don’t support in violation of the First Amendment.
Public employees have challenged some of the unions’ abuse of power, and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed that employees have certain rights. Specifically:
You can keep the hundreds of dollars in overcharges and make your own decisions about politics and causes.
If you object to WFSE overcharging you for workplace representation, you may choose to opt out of those charges.
U.S. Supreme Court decisions have long recognized that unions are not allowed to charge public employees for political, ideological or other nonessential union expenses as a condition of employment (Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, 500 U.S. 507 (1991)).
To accommodate this right, any public employee may become an “agency fee payer” and remain a nonunion member of the bargaining unit paying only the workplace representation fee, which is less than full union membership dues.
The Supreme Court has also required unions to explain to fee payers the purposes for any portion of fees it collects from them (Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson, 475 U.S. 292, (1986)).
The Federation of State Employees addresses this obligation by reducing the payroll deduction by approximately 25% according to the union contract:
“any employee who makes a request may pay a representation fee equal to a pro rata share of the full membership fee that is related to [workplace representation] . . . rather than the full membership fee.” (WA/WFSE Collective Bargaining Agreement, Pg. 110)
The most recent calculation of how much of the unions’ dues the union claims is used for legitimate workplace representation and how much it admits is used for extraneous purposes is reported to all fee payers each year in the “Representation Fee Notice.”
On page two, the union calculates that seventy percent of the portion of union dues sent to AFSCME International is extraneous (“nonchargeable”) and thus will be returned. On page three, the WFSE state council 28 reports that ten percent of its $18 million budget is extraneous.
The union acknowledges that for WFSE general government employees, the reduced fee is reflected by collecting a payroll deduction of 1.17% of wages rather than the 1.5% collected from members paying for everything the union officials choose to spend money on. This represents a 25 percent reduction in dues. “Nonmember Options” WFSE.ORG
Total overcharges from all levels of the union can range from $250 to $350.