Caregivers forced to attend union-led training sessions deserve to know their rights

Paul Kersey

Labor law expert, occasional smart-aleck, defender of the free society.

Paul Kersey
/ Labor
November 7, 2014

Caregivers forced to attend union-led training sessions deserve to know their rights

The Quinn administration ordered that all caregivers must attend a training session hosted by SEIU in order to continue receiving Medicaid benefits.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in the case Harris v. Quinn. The case was about people who care for relatives with disabilities at home and receive support through Medicaid to help with the cost. In Illinois, these home-based caregivers were pushed into the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, when Rod Blagojevich was governor, and forced to pay union dues out of their Medicaid checks. Fortunately, the Supreme Court ruled that these family caregivers were not government employees, and therefore could not be forced to pay money to a union.

Here in Illinois, the ruling cost the SEIU as much as $10 million annually. But now, the union is hoping to recoup this lost money – and the state appears all too willing to help.

The outgoing Quinn administration has ordered that all caregivers – many of whom have been tending to their loved ones effectively for years – must attend a training session hosted by the SEIU in order to continue receiving these Medicaid benefits. Many of the training sessions are being held at SEIU offices. And, as part of the training, caregivers are forced to sit through a membership pitch by SEIU officials. After this pitch, caregivers are asked to sign union membership cards.

As part of the Illinois Policy Institute’s ongoing outreach on this issue, staffers have been meeting with caregivers at the locations where the mandatory SEIU training sessions are held. Caregivers need to know that they don’t have to join or pay money to a union, that their union membership can be rescinded at any time and the approximately $600 a year in union membership costs could be used to care for their families instead.

Many caregivers who have met us outside the training sessions are relieved – they can’t wait to get out of the SEIU and are angry that they are being forced to attend these sessions. One signed a resignation letter on the spot and asked me to deliver it for him. Most are somewhere in between – curious and open-minded.

We have frequently run into harassment from SEIU employees, who have interfered as we passed out our literature. SEIU staff have tried to drown out our message by yelling out union political slogans and tried to come between us and the caregivers.

They also registered their complaints about our activities. Some of the union complaints have been incredibly petty:

• We have constantly been accused of union busting. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have not run the union down, mainly because we know these caregivers are pressed for time already, and they are smart enough to decide for themselves if they want to join and pay dues.
• The SEIU has certainly considered our literature to be some sort of threat. At one point union employees tried to snatch our materials out of the hands of attendees as they entered the building. Then they brought out union membership cards and tried to convince caregivers to sign union cards on the spot.
• At the headquarters of the SEIU Healthcare local, where one of the training sessions was held, a union official argued that I couldn’t take video of her while I stood on the public sidewalk, because she was standing on union property.
• A few minutes later one of my coworkers was accused of trespassing because she entered the union’s reception area briefly to ask a question.
The defensiveness of the SEIU’s staff leads one to suspect that the union is afraid of what might happen when caregivers know about their legal rights.

The state and the union need to make up their minds: is this a training session where caregivers are taught about proper techniques for giving assistance to the disabled, or is it a union membership drive? Training would arguably be a legitimate use of taxpayer dollars – though we would question whether it is really necessary to train caregivers who have been taking excellent care of their loved ones for years. But if the point is to sign up SEIU members, the state has no business forcing anyone to attend these meetings.

We would like to think that the state and the union were dealing honestly with these caregivers – who already have to deal with the strain of tending to their loved ones, many of whom need around-the-clock care. But apparently the union considers us to be a threat, and wants to be sure that these caregivers don’t get to hear about their rights from anyone else. And that’s a shame. These families deserve fair treatment, not a high-pressure pitch from a union spokesman under the guise of training.

They deserve to know their rights. We intend to make sure that they do.

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