In the opening salvo of a statewide fight this year, critics of a two-year-old policy forcing state workers to pay union dues or similar fees are trying to vote themselves out of union representation.
"We believe the unions have literally sold out workers' rights in order to go from less than $4 million in dues to well over $29 million," said Dennis Redmon, a state worker leading the "decertification" campaign.
About 65 people — at least a few of them union fans — turned out Tuesday for Redmon's first meeting. Similar meetings, Redmon said, are being scheduled for Spokane, Colville, Seattle and other cities.
Speaking in front of a large sign marked "forced union dues" with a red slash through it, Redmon urged workers to sign cards calling for a vote on whether their union should represent their bargaining unit. If 30 percent of each unit's workers send in the cards, he said, it will force a vote.
"I think we will get votes, and I think we will vote them (the unions) out," he said.
Starting in 2004, a broad list of 2002 civil service reforms allowed state-worker unions to negotiate a "union security clause" into their collective bargaining agreements. For the first time, state workers had to either become a dues-paying member of a union or become a "fee payer" paying slightly less for the costs of negotiating the contract.
Many workers balked at the requirement — particularly since many felt they didn't get a chance to vote on that provision two years ago.
"All we're asking for is a vote, so that every employee gets a chance to vote," said Darrel Mollenhour, a medical treatment adjudicator at the state Department of Labor and Industries.
Since 2004, however, most state workers have opted to join their unions. The Washington Federation of State Employees, for example, represents 38,000 workers, who pay 1.37 percent of salary in dues. Of those, spokesman Tim Welch said, 33,000 chose to be full members. The remaining fee payers pay 1.06 percent of salary.
"He's not giving the full story," Welch said of Redmon and his campaign. The union puts its money into looking out for workers' rights, he said, fighting attempts to contract out their work, representing them in disputes with management and fighting for pay and medical benefits. As a result of a union grievance over health care costs, he said, members will get back a $756 payment July 1st. And before the current two-year contract was negotiated by unions, he said, many state workers hadn't had a cost-of-living raise in four years.
"They stand to lose an awful lot if they don't have a contract," Welch said.
Note: This story, in print, ran with the headline "State workers try to oust unions." That prompted an e-mail from David Groves, spokesman for the state Labor Council, who pointed out, correctly, that state workers have tried this before without success.
"I would have gone with `Very small group of state employees tries (again) to oust unions' with a subhead like `They tried before and failed miserably,'" he wrote. "But that's just me."