Harris v. Quinn freed workers from paying for union political agenda

Paul Kersey

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

Paul Kersey
/ Labor
August 28, 2014

Harris v. Quinn freed workers from paying for union political agenda

The Illinois Policy Institute’s recent report on union spending focused on Illinois’ big, statewide public-sector unions, but there are lots of important locals that are misusing their members’ funds as well. One of the most interesting is Healthcare IL-IN, a Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, local that played a controversial role in organizing day-care...

The Illinois Policy Institute’s recent report on union spending focused on Illinois’ big, statewide public-sector unions, but there are lots of important locals that are misusing their members’ funds as well.

One of the most interesting is Healthcare IL-IN, a Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, local that played a controversial role in organizing day-care providers and home-health workers in Illinois. Healthcare IL-IN was one of the defendants in the Harris v. Quinn lawsuit, and as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, stands to lose many of its members.

So what were those day-care providers and home-based caregivers getting for their dues money back when they were forced to pay dues?

On first glance, Healthcare IL-IN looks like a reasonably efficient operation. In its LM-2 spending report, the union claims that it spent more than $14 million on representation, while only $1.9 million went to politics and $6.4 million went into overhead and administration.

So if Healthcare IL-IN’s numbers are to be believed, almost 63 percent of its spending went to representation. (A healthy nonprofit should put about two-thirds of its spending into its core program, so this number is on track.)

But a closer look shows the union is fudging its numbers, trying to pass off political activism as “representation.” For instance, the union purchased “contract services” from Action Now, a community organization specializing in political activism, and listed the $352,000 they paid the group under representation.

Healthcare IL-IN also rented out McCormick Place for its 2013 Leadership Assembly – also known as “Union Power Rising” – at a cost of $101,671. Rather than being a straight union business meeting where bargaining agendas were discussed, “Union Power Rising” seems to have largely been a vehicle for protests over such issues as minimum wage laws and federalized health care. Healthcare IL-IN considered this to be part of representation as well.

The union also listed spending on travel, lodging and food under representation costs. Overall, Healthcare IL-IN spent more than $772,000 on travel, including $182,000 for charter bus operator True North. The union also spent over $600,000 on hotel accommodations and $375,000 on meals and catering that it considered part of representation.

Take the payments to Action Now, the rental of McCormick Place and the travel and food expenses, and the total adds up to more than $2.2 million in “representation” costs with little connection to collective bargaining for members.

For years, day-care providers and home-based caregivers were forced to pay dues to an SEIU local that turned around and plowed that money into political causes that many of the local’s own members did not support. Fortunately, that arrangement is coming to an end, but our review of union spending shows that what went on at SEIU Healthcare IL-IN is all too typical of unions in Illinois.

There are thousands of workers throughout the state who are still forced to pay dues to unions in order to keep their jobs. And those unions don’t spend that money representing workers. The money is more likely to be wasted, or spent on politics. Should anyone be forced to pay for this?

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