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Union leader apologizes to WA corrections employee who opted out of union

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(The Center Square) – A Washington state union leader has issued an apology to a longtime employee of the Washington Department of Corrections for inadvertently suggesting the employee’s representation was contingent upon union membership.

In a March 20 letter to Todd Fix, a longtime employee of the DOC, Mike Yestramski, president of the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME Council 28, wrote, “I apologize for any implication to the contrary by my reference that I reserve personal responses for actual union members.”

An unfair labor practice complaint had been filed by Freedom Foundation attorneys on behalf of Fix, whose claim alleged the union engaged in unlawful discrimination and interference with his right not to join the union.

“Mr. Fix has been with the Department of Corrections for a while and more interestingly, he does have a long-standing relationship with the union,” Ravi Prasad, Freedom Foundation litigation counsel representing Fix, told The Center Square.

Prasad said Fix was not anti-union by any stretch of the imagination.

“Before he made the choice to exercise his constitutional right to opt out of the union and opt out of paying dues, Mr. Fix did have a history of being someone involved in union activity,” he said. “He had even negotiated on behalf of the union in the past.”

Fix sent an email to Yestramski asking about the status of negotiations between the union and their collective employer, said Prasad, “with respect to a $1,000 bonus and a 3% raise that was due to him under the active Collective Bargaining Agreement.”

It was Yestramski’s response that inspired the complaint.

“Mr. Yestramski sent him an email back giving the impression that because Mr. Fix was not a union member, that he was not going to reply to his request for an update,” Prasad explained.

He went on to say, “If Mr. Fix wanted to obtain such information about the union’s collective bargaining activity, they said he could always rejoin the union. The takeaway that Mr. Fix had was that Mr. Yestramski was reserving certain privileges and replies for only people who are members of the union.”

That’s what prompted the official complaint.

“We went to the Public Employment Relations Commission in Washington with the position that this was a violation of the duty of fair representation,” Prasad said. “Those who have the power to be exclusive bargaining representatives, must represent both members and non-members of a union fairly, and here, Mr. Fix felt the comments made were a breach of that duty.”

Prasad said he was pleased to receive the apology.

“We have received an apology letter from Mr. Yestramski for any implication that he is reserving replies only for members of the union,” he reiterated.

Prasada says he and his client are satisfied and the complaint has been closed, adding he hopes attention generated by this incident will encourage others who may be confused about union representation and opt-out laws to look into their rights.

“That was one of the hopes when I wrote the piece, that we could dispel any kind of misconceptions that people have that if they leave their union, that they would no longer be entitled to representation,” Prasada said of a blog he wrote about the situation. “It’s rather clear that individuals who are not union members still have this right, but there is a misconception out there and people end up fearful to leave their unions for fear they’ll lose their rights to representation.”