A Thurston County judge on Friday ordered the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services to make public the names of thousands of family healthcare providers being paid with taxpayer dollars.
The only proviso was that the disclosure not indicate which workers are members of State Employees International Union (SEIU) 925 and which are not.
The Olympia-based Freedom Foundation requested the list of names in October following last summer's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn that home healthcare workers are not full-fledged state employees and, therefore, cannot be required to pay money to a labor union as a condition of employment.
The Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit, free-market think and action tank, requested the names of all the employees who receive public funds through DSHS — many of whom don't even realize the union is deducting mandatory dues from their paychecks — so it can notify them of their newly acknowledged right to opt out of all payments to a union if they so choose.
Before the request could be honored, however, the agency notified the union, which filed a lawsuit to prevent mass defections and a huge loss in dues revenue.
During a preliminary hearing last fall, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Erik Price issued a temporary restraining order preventing the names from being released until the case could be heard.
On Friday, however, Price said DSHS must turn over the names — so long as the disclosure doesn't make clear which employees are union members in good standing and which have requested to pay only a forced representation fee.
"Everyone who makes payments to the union — whether voluntarily as a member or involuntarily as a nonmember — will be in the records produced by DSHS," Abernathy said, "so we got exactly what we asked for."
Abernathy said the Freedom Foundation will meet with DSHS officials and the SEIU's lawyers within the month to decide the ground rules for the disclosure. He also expects SEIU to file an appeal at that point to further delay release of the information.
"The Freedom Foundation's goal is to ensure that all payments made by providers to the union are voluntary payments," Abernathy said. "The union's attempt to hide behind the First Amendment's guarantee of free association is entirely hypocritical because many of the providers were compelled to become union members in the first place, and they have not been notified they can opt out."
SEIU's lawsuit also accused the Freedom Foundation of wanting to use the names for commercial purposes and argued that releasing the names of caregivers is tantamount to releasing the personal information of children and welfare recipients — information exempted from disclosure by the Public Records Act.
But Price rejected those arguments.
"As a practical matter, they've already lost the case," Abernathy said. "We're going to get the names, and we're going to tell these people they don't have to pay money to the union if they don't want to. Providers we've been able to contact already have thanked us for doing so. Now we want to tell the rest of them.
"The only question at this point," he said, "is how long the union can keep the case tied up in the courts to further withhold the truth from its own members."