To the untrained ear, Washington state’s I-1501, an initiative that “concerns seniors and vulnerable individuals,” sounds like the least controversial measure on the ballot this year.
“This measure,” the official state voters’ pamphlet explains, “would increase the penalties for criminal identity theft and consumer fraud targeted at seniors or vulnerable individuals; and exempt certain information of vulnerable individuals and in-home caregivers from public disclosure. Should this measure be enacted into law?”
The funny business starts after the semicolon. Maybe it would make sense to make the info of “vulnerable individuals” exempt from public disclosure, but what about these “in-home caregivers”? Where did that come from?
It came from the Service Employees International Union, the union that spent $1,606,491 through October 25th promoting the measure, according to the Northern Light newspaper.
SEIU is promoting the measure because of a fight with a state think tank, the Freedom Foundation. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn decision gave the state’s approximately 40,000 paid in-home caregivers the right not to be members or dues payers to the SEIU if they so choose.
Washington state has done little to apprise the workers of their rights in this matter, so the Freedom Foundation is seeking to contact and politely inform home healthcare workers — often the parents of children with chronic and severe illnesses — that if they want out, they can get out.
The SEIU waged and lost a fight in the legislature to amend the Public Records Act to make it harder for the Freedom Foundation to contact them. When that looked to be failing, the union got enough signatures to put the deceptively worded I-1501 on the ballot.
Two in-home caregivers who already left SEIU are among those who urge voters to vote against the measure in the voters’ pamphlet. (Almost all initiatives include arguments pro and con from the respective campaigns after the official explanations.)
“Through Initiative 1501, SEIU ensures that it, and only it, will still receive caregivers’ information — even Social Security numbers — so it can continue capturing over $20 million a year in dues from these individuals every year,” they write.
Worse, there is language in the law that could turn those caregivers into distant islands.
“If Initiative 1501 passes, caregivers will not even be able to contact each other to discuss issues of common concern,” the pamphleteers warn. “I-1501 protects union bosses’ wallets while hurting workers and vulnerable individuals.”
Since the initiative is largely aimed at shutting down the efforts of the Freedom Foundation, I contacted the nonprofit’s labor policy director Maxford Nelsen to ask him about it.
Nelsen said the union’s tactics were “appalling but not surprising.” He calls 1-1501 a “scam” that “pays just enough lip-service to the importance of protecting seniors and the vulnerable to get an innocent-sounding description on the ballot.”
As for actual protections for the vulnerable and old people, he argued that the measure would “do nothing tangible to protect anyone from identity theft or other crimes” because federal law “already provides stiffer penalties for identity theft than I-1501 would create under state law.”
He pointed out that AARP itself “has refused to endorse the measure because they realize it will do nothing to protect seniors.”
But then again, so have most folks who have done their homework. “Every major newspaper and publication that has looked at I-1501 has come out against it,” Nelson said.
Still, he worries about what would happen to in-home caregivers if this thing passes.
“Not only would it hinder the Freedom Foundation’s efforts to inform caregivers of their constitutional rights, but caregivers would be prevented from communicating with each other,” Nelsen warned.
What that would mean in practice is that “effectively, SEIU would have complete control over the flow of information to caregivers. As a result, it would be logistically impossible for caregivers to ever gather enough signatures to change unions or decertify SEIU, providing the union with a permanent monopoly.”
Do not pass go. They’ve already got your $20 million.
Jeremy Lott is an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.