WA Unions Rising Despite Last Year's SCOTUS Decision

SEATTLE — More than a year after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling some thought would deal a major blow to unions, the organizations show no signs of slowing down in Washington state. The 2018 decision on Janus v. AFSCME had the potential to cut off one revenue stream to public unions: it allowed employees to opt out of "fair-share" fees even as the unions continued to negotiate for them. 

The Olympia-based group Freedom Foundation thought this would be an opportunity to get union members to opt out of paying the fees. But Peter Starzynski, executive director at the Northwest Accountability Project, said that isn't how things played out.

"The reality is their effort has been a failure, as we've seen union membership in Washington increase,” Starzynski said. “And all along the West Coast, including in Washington, unions continue to win important victories like increases in the minimum wage, paid sick leave for all, fair scheduling."

Union membership in the Evergreen State actually grew in 2018 - part of a trend that began in 2014. Representation is now close to 20% of the workforce, making Washington the third-most unionized state in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Freedom Foundation did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

The number of public employees represented by the Washington Federation of State Employees grew from 44,000 before Janus to 45,000 after the ruling. And in July, the state's assistant attorneys general organized and have filed for certification with the Public Employment Relations Commission. 

AAG Allyson Bazan said she and her colleagues see the advantages of unionizing, regardless of the Janus decision.

"The time is right for AAGs to work so that Janus isn't something that stops or hinders labor unions in our state, but instead collective bargaining can still be a vital tool for getting public employees what they need in our state,” Bazan said.

Amanda Sherry is a developmental disabilities administrator with the state Department of Social and Health Services. She and other supervisors also filed for certification of their union in July. Sherry has been in a union before and said that taught her about their importance.

"We also know that there are things that we can't do alone and we do better as a collective,” Sherry said. “And with the support of a union behind us, we can push for change within the supervisors that we have across the state."