Caregiver Info Disclosure Measure on Washington Ballot

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By Tyrone Richardson

Nov. 4 — Washington State voters will weigh in Nov. 8 on whether contact information for union-represented caregivers should be disclosed publicly.

Initiative 1501, supported by Service Employees International Union Local 775, which represents the workers, would raise penalties for criminal identity theft and consumer fraud targeting seniors or vulnerable people. The policy is designed to prevent public disclosure about individuals and in-home caretakers. The initiative has been criticized by some public information advocates that say it has a different purpose: preserving dues from more than 30,000 home health care-givers paid by the state.

“It’s fair to say this is the SEIU’s last-ditch effort to keep the Freedom Foundation from communicating with these caregivers about their rights,” Max Nelson, director of policy at Freedom Foundation, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 4. “They say it’s to protect the vulnerable, but that’s a smokescreen.”

Freedom Foundation is a Washington state-based group that describes itself as “promoting individual liberty” and is supported by the National Right to Work Foundation, which frequently represents workers who don’t want to pay union dues or fees. Nelson is referring to the Freedom Foundation’s efforts to inform the state-employed caregivers that they’re no longer mandated to pay dues to the local.

The group’s efforts followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Harris v. Quinn, which set a precedent that home health-care aides who are paid with state funds through Medicaid or other state programs can’t be required to contribute to union dues or fees.

Union Spends $1.6M to Push Measure Approval

Adam Glickman, secretary treasurer of Local 775, didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment Nov. 4. The union has spent at least $1.6 million to urge voters to approve initiative 1501, according to a filing with the state’s public disclosure commission.

Website www.yeson1501.com, supported by Local 775, touts the measure as a way to discourage “identity theft and consumer fraud against seniors and other vulnerable residents by increasing penalties and preventing the release of personal private information about vulnerable people and their in-home caregivers by the state.”

Opponents of the measure have said it’s misleading.

“The privacy and identity theft is just a cloak for what it is that the SEIU wants and that is to keep the Freedom Foundation from getting a list of the home healthcare workers who are union members,” said Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government.

Passage of the measure would set a precedent for thwarting disclosure of public records, Nixon added.

“If any special interest group that does not want a set of public records to be made public can run an initiative cloaked in very sympathetic language, how you can prevent ID theft, and in the process they get a new public records exemption pass, that is very dangerous,” he said.

Pending Lawsuit Against SEIU, State

The Freedom Foundation’s initiative comes as caregivers are suing SEIU Local 775 and the state’s governor, alleging they haven’t been able to opt out of paying union dues ( Fisk v. Inslee, W.D. Wash., No. 3:16-cv-5889, complaint filed 10/20/16).

The complaint alleges that the state and the union “conspired” to keep members from practicing their First Amendment rights. The group is seeking damages in the amount of the union dues or fees that were deducted since the workers sought to stop paying them.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tyrone Richardson in Washington at trichardson@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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