Illinois politicians considering changes to law under review by U.S. Supreme Court

Paul Kersey

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

Paul Kersey
/ Labor
March 5, 2014

Illinois politicians considering changes to law under review by U.S. Supreme Court

The Illinois General Assembly is poised to consider a bill that looks harmless at first glance, but should be raising eyebrows across the state. House Bill 5935 is supposed to make technical changes to the state’s Medicaid programs, but in the process it affects people who are involved in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case....

The Illinois General Assembly is poised to consider a bill that looks harmless at first glance, but should be raising eyebrows across the state.

House Bill 5935 is supposed to make technical changes to the state’s Medicaid programs, but in the process it affects people who are involved in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case.

That case is Harris v. Quinn. Pam Harris is a suburban Chicago mom who cares for a son, Josh, who suffers from severe physical and developmental disabilities. Harris relies on a state Medicaid program for financial assistance while she gives Josh around-the-clock care. Under a series of executive orders and changes to the state labor law, Harris, and tens of thousands of people like her, have been unionized and had union dues drawn from state subsidies. Harris so far has managed to avoid that fate, but 20,000 others have had $50 million of their state aid redirected to the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU.

HB 5935 changes the state statutes that allow for Harris and those like her to be unionized. At first glance the changes seem to be technical, mainly updating terminology to reflect new names for programs used by the Department of Human Services. The language of the bill looks harmless, but the timing is very troubling.

The problem is that the U.S. Supreme Court is very likely to rule that Pam Harris, and home-based caregivers like her, cannot be unionized at all because they are not actually state employees. This would be an entirely fair decision for the Supreme Court to make. Unions exist to protect employees, and Pam Harris is not an employee – she is a mom. This is not a career for her; this is a labor of love for which the state provides some financial aid. The nation’s highest court has already heard arguments, and is expected to rule in June.

So why is the state making technical changes to provide for unionization that might be declared illegal in just a few months? The bill might clear up some things at the Illinois Department of Human Services, but it does so at the cost of muddying the record in a very important freedom of speech case.

It seems odd for the General Assembly to make technical changes to a piece of state law that is on the verge of being declared unconstitutional. Out of respect for the court, and for the rights of home-based caregivers like Pam Harris, lawmakers should wait until the Supreme Court hands down its ruling, and then, if changes need to be made, the Illinois General Assembly can act accordingly.

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