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Declining member dues highlights battle over Washington state unions

Washington state has long been known for the strength of its labor unions. With nearly 20 percent of its workforce (almost 650,000 people) belonging to a union last year the state ranked No. 3 in the country for union membership, according to data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

It came as somewhat of a surprise, then, when Washington’s largest employment union reported a big fall in annual membership dues last month.

The Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) recorded a 12 percent drop in dues to $24 million in its latest financial report to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Job cuts weren’t the reason behind the drop, as state employment remained stable over the past year. Rather, some state employees have chosen to stop paying dues to WFSE, according to the anti-union Freedom Foundation, which has fueled the trend.

Freedom Foundation, which promotes free enterprise and limited government, attributes part of WFSE’s financial woes to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME in which the court ruled that it’s unconstitutional for unions to collect dues from non-union state employees.

WFSE is the Washington affiliate of AFSCME, the largest trade union of public employees in the U.S.

The ruling gave firepower to the Freedom Foundation’s campaign in Washington state to convince state employees to stop paying dues to unions. Through canvassing, door-to-door appeals, and emailing state employees, the foundation claims to have helped more than 20,000 Washington government employees leave their unions.

The pro-union Northwest Accountability Project, which acts as a counterweight to the Freedom Foundation, has fought back with its own public advocacy, including sending counter emails to state employees.

It’s the latest battle in an ongoing war being waged over Washington state’s unions and, in turn, employee protections.

Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us at if you have an L&I, workers’ comp, injury, or employment law claim. You won’t get better advice.

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