Of all the claims in costly litigation mounted against the Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Wash., for its persistent efforts to notify home health-care workers about their right to pay no dues or fees to the SEIU, one of the most-troubling was eliminated last Friday. Seattle Superior Court Judge Steve Rosen dismissed SEIU 775’s claim of “tortious interference” by the Freedom Foundation in the union’s “business expectancy” in obtaining the dues of workers. Rosen ruled that the Freedom Foundation’s efforts to notify the caregivers of their rights under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 Harris v. Quinn decision were a legitimate expression of free speech protected by the First Amendment.
“The First Amendment won and SEIU lost,” according to Freedom Foundation attorney James Abernathy, who argued the case. “It took a long time getting to this point, but we’re gratified by the outcome.”
While other claims in the SEIU lawsuit against the Freedom Foundation remain, “[t]he ‘tortious interference’ claim was the heart of their case,” Abernathy said. “The other allegations are even less credible, and we plan to file further motions to have them dismissed, too.”
“The Freedom Foundation has prevailed on the merits every time a judge has considered them in this lawsuit,” added David Dewhirst, the Freedom Foundation’s chief litigation counsel. “But for the unions, this case isn’t about the merits. It’s about inflicting maximum damage against the Freedom Foundation through the discovery process. And it’s also about stalling for time because with every day that goes by, more dues money comes out of the paychecks of people who may not even know they’re in a union, let alone share its values.”
Rosen’s ruling has important, national implications beyond Washington because the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in September to hear a case, Janus v. AFSCME, that may give all public-sector employees across the country the right to decide whether or not to affiliate with a labor union without fear of losing their jobs if they decline. If Janus accords them this right, unions will try the “tortious-interference” claim anywhere and everywhere possible. The Rosen ruling out of Seattle will make it harder for such claims to succeed.
“We’ve been on the front lines of this battle for three years,” said Freedom Foundation chief executive officer Tom McCabe. “No other policy organization in the country has gone to the mat for these workers the way we have, and none has been the object of so much abuse by the unions.”