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Is voting for WFSE a waste of a vote?

The runoff election between WA INTERPRETERS and the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE), which runs August 15-30, is almost here. Ballots have already been mailed by the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC).

While only these two choices will appear on the ballot this time, L&I interpreters should know that PERC may ultimately determine that WFSE is not eligible to represent L&I interpreters. Here’s why.

In order to be certified as a union, state law requires that an organization must have “as one of its primary purposes the representation of employees in their employment relations with employers.” The problem is that WFSE doesn’t represent employees, but local unions.

WFSE is an affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). As such, it falls under AFSCME’s organizational structure.

AFSCME’s bylaws provide for two main types of affiliates: Locals and councils. A local consists of “persons eligible for membership in the local” while a council consists of “local unions in any appropriate jurisdiction.”

WFSE is AFSCME Council 28. It is not a local union. Accordingly, WFSE’s bylaws provide that, “The membership of this council shall consist of all AFSCME state employee local unions and all AFSCME private sector local unions…”

Because WFSE’s membership does not consist of “employees” but rather the 49 local unions affiliated with AFSCME and subject to Council 28’s jurisdiction, it cannot be certified to represent L&I interpreters.

To confuse things, however, WFSE has asked to appear on the ballot as “Interpreters United (WFSE).” Interpreters United is AFSCME Local 1671. While WFSE has sometimes campaigned using the name “Interpreters United,” Interpreters United is not participating in the election in any official capacity; only WFSE is.

Even if Interpreters United was participating in the election, though, it also couldn’t represent L&I interpreters.

While, unlike WFSE, Interpreters United does actually represent employees, its constitution restricts membership to “language access providers who render interpreter services for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services appointments or Medicaid enrollee appointments.” Since L&I interpreters can’t be members of Interpreters United, it can’t be certified to represent them.

WA INTERPRETERS explained all of this in detail in a legal brief submitted to PERC on July 8, before the first-round election. However, PERC won't address the issue until after the runoff election since, if WA INTERPRETERS wins, WFSE's eligibility to be certified won't be relevant. If WFSE wins the election, though, PERC will have to address whether it can actually be certified.

As an independent union comprised entirely of actual L&I interpreters with a demonstrated track record of fighting for our livelihoods, WA INTERPRETERS is the best choice in the runoff election. It may also be the only legitimate choice.

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