SEIU fights to force home caregivers to pay union dues

January 24, 2014
By Paul Kersey

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case that will determine if a Medicaid recipient caring for her child is a state worker required to turn part of her meager resources over to union bosses.

Illinois resident Pam Harris is a 55-year-old mom earning less than the minimum wage who cares for her son Josh Harris, 25. He has Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome, a muscular degenerative disease, compounded by physical disabilities and mental illness.

Josh and his family qualify for an Illinois home-based support-services program that lets disabled adults live at home. He gets $721 each month from Medicaid to cover the costs of the constant supervision he requires.

To the Service Employees International Union and Illinois’ Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, the fact that Josh’s mother receives a small government stipend given to home health-care workers makes her a state employee subject to forced unionization.

Under an Illinois law crafted by the incarcerated former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and enforced by his successor Quinn, home caregivers like Harris are designated state employees required to pay dues whether they join the union or not.

In January 2009, Gov. Quinn, who has taken nearly $5 million in campaign contributions from SEIU, signed an executive order stating these home caregivers — even moms and dads — are in fact public employees available to be unionized by the SEIU, which had been granted exclusive representation rights over the state’s 20,475 “personal assistants,” as they were designated.

The union then initiated an aggressive card-check campaign and presented the state of Illinois with 10,627 cards authorizing union representation. The problem was that 90% of these were signed by existing union members while only 10% of the nonunion at-home caregivers assented to SEIU organization attempts. To the state of Illinois and its union-backed governor, that didn’t matter. Pat Harris was now a union member and had to pay dues.

“One penny, one dollar taken out of (the monthly stipend) is taken out of support or services for Josh,” she said. “Being in a union is incompatible, intrusive and going to interfere with the care I provide. The union is there to protect the union worker, so I don’t see how Josh benefits.”

Harris and other disability program members voted the union down and sued Quinn in the class-action lawsuit that was heard at the U.S. Supreme Court this week. If the court rules that Quinn was wrong in declaring home-care providers public employees, unions could lose several hundred thousand members across the country.

This would be another body-blow to unions who have hemorrhaged members in the private sector. Private-sector membership has shriveled from about 35% of the workforce in the 1950s to 6.6% today. Unions now must rely on forced unionization aided by government to fill their coffers.

Home health care workers like Josh’s mom have become cash cows for SEIU. According to documents obtained by the Illinois Policy Institute under a Freedom of Information Act request, SEIU received more than $52 million over five years from about 20,000 home health care workers, many of whom care for relatives.

“The lawsuit is about a government union taking advantage of political clout to push people into a union, so SEIU could skim dues money and a lot of that money found its way back into politicians’ hands,” said IPI labor expert Paul Kersey.

“These are parents and relatives taking care of disabled family members, not state employees. They shouldn’t have to worry about the funds they need being redirected to unions.”

We don’t think think so either. Pam Harris should be free to take care of her handicapped son at home and not be forced to fill the coffers of union bosses and the politicians in thrall to them.

Experts available to discuss case. Media contact: Diana Rickert 312-607-4977

To read the Institute’s amicus brief, click here. 

To hear Pam’s story, click here. 

TAGS: Pam Harris, SEIU: Service Employees International Union