Supreme Court deals big setback to labor unions

SEATTLE — Ben Rast is a state safety inspector. He refuses to be a member of the Washington Federation of State Employees, but still has to pay union dues.

"We've got unions taking money compulsorily from people and they're doing things with it that go against conscience and deeply held beliefs," he said in an interview.

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​The Supreme Court agreed with Rast Wednesday when it ruled that government workers can't be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining.

With the help of the Freedom Foundation, Rast filled a local lawsuit to stop paying even the portion of dues that go for salary negotiations, because he believes all union activities are political.

"If they were willing to completely give up all political action and all political endorsements and all political contributions, I might feel differently," Rast said.

Hundreds of state employee union members disagree. They rallied in the park next to Harborview Medical Center.

Asked if fellow members of the Service Employees International Union Local 99 would stop paying union dues, Harborview social worker Kimela Vigil responded, "This is why the conservation is so important because you might save in the short term but you're not going to save in the long term."

She said the union fights not only for salary increases, but for working conditions that help them better serve patients.

Conservatives see the decision as a victory for state taxpayers.

"Unions, of course, drive up government spending because that benefits them. Now I think they'll have a more balanced discussion about how much the cost of government goes up," said Washington Policy Center Vice President Paul Guppy.

But Rast doubts many of his co-workers will stop paying full dues. And neither does the executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees.

"In order to protect pensions, in order to get decent pay and benefits, you have to have a collective voice, you have to have a powerful voice. There's no other way to do it," said Greg Devereaux.