Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois-Indiana is the largest union local in Illinois, but that’s not the only thing about this union that is interesting. The local also has an alarming number of agency fee payers, or workers who are covered by a union contract but who refuse to join the union formally. Instead, they pay an agency fee in lieu of regular union dues.
A survey of the largest 50 union locals in Illinois by membership, using information provided by the unions themselves on federal LM-2 forms filed for 2012 and 2013, shows that the average local has at most a handful of agency fee-payers. Aside from SEIU Healthcare IL-IN, agency fee payers made up only 1.3 percent of those who were represented by the union. But SEIU Healthcare IL-IN reported 37,351 agency fee payers compared to 55,925 members. Agency fee payers made up 40 percent of the workers the local represented.
No other local in Illinois came close to the percentage of agency fee payers that SEIU Healthcare IL-IN reported. If SEIU Healthcare IL-IN’s agency fee payers were to form their own union local, they would be the fourth-largest local in the state.
SEIU Healthcare IL-IN is no stranger to controversy, as it is the same local that represents 20,000 personal care assistants who participate in the state’s home services program. These personal care assistants were unionized under a controversial executive order issued by former Gov. Rod Blagoyevich in 2003. The governor’s decision was contested in a lawsuit that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear and rule on next year.
Personal care assistants tend to be family members who care for a disabled relative and receive state assistance that allows them to give full-time care. Up until 2003 they had not been considered employees and – except for being unionized under state law – are not treated as state employees now either.
And they really shouldn’t be. SEIU may want to treat caregivers as government employees, but what most of them are is parents who want to stay at home and take care of their kids, and have no interest in union activism or politics.
SEIU Healthcare IL-IN also represents home-based child care providers, who are not a party to the lawsuit but who inhabit a similar situation: they are not genuine “employees,” but are unionized because they participate in state programs and receive a state subsidy when they tend to children from low-income families.
Not all union opponents opt to pay an agency fee in place of regular union membership – doing so means identifying yourself as a union critic and opening yourself up to retribution. In spite of the risks, it seems a lot of the people SEIU Healthcare IL-IN “represents” are vehemently opposed to the union. This is just one more reason why the decision to unionize these programs should be reversed.