Unions making millions off the disabled

Unions making millions off the disabled

Pam is doing what any mom would do: fighting to give her son the very best care she can.

This piece was published at Chicago Tribune on Jan. 30

Josh, the youngest child in the Harris family, was born with a rare genetic disorder. He lives with severe physical, cognitive and emotional struggles. This means the day-to-day tasks most of us take for granted — waking up, splashing water on his face, eating — require a lot of help.

But Josh is blessed to have a family that loves him. They always have been there for him.

In fact, his mother, Pam, has stayed home full time to take care of Josh for the past 25 years. Josh is her primary focus. Not her career. Not vacations. Not social outings with other moms. The truth is, Pam is doing what any mom would do: fighting to give her son the very best care she can.

Josh’s care is expensive. The Harris family is fortunate enough to receive a modest Medicaid benefit administered by Illinois state government. Josh is eligible to receive up to $2,130 per month, or roughly $25,000 a year.

But here is where the Harris family’s story takes a disgusting turn.

Henry Bayer wants some of Josh’s money. In fact, he feels entitled to it.

Who is Henry Bayer?

Bayer is the executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, one of the state’s largest government unions.

Bayer’s salary — approximately $145,000 in 2012, according to public records — is paid for by union dues from government workers. Compulsory union dues, from government workers who must pay money to Bayer and his union whether they want to or not.

Illinois politicians have a dangerously cozy relationship with government unions. In 2009, these close ties paid off: Gov. Pat Quinn issued an executive order to unionize the people in Josh’s program.

Imagine having to pay union dues to collect food stamps or unemployment. That’s what the executive order meant for Josh. For him to continue receiving his Medicaid support and his mother to be his primary caretaker, the Harris family would be forced to give part of their benefit check to either the AFSCME or another union, the Service Employees International Union.

The Harris family wouldn’t stand for it. They alerted other families in the program, and when it came time to vote on which union would represent them, the vote was clear: 220 votes for AFSCME, 293 votes for SEIU, and 1,018 votes with an emphatic “no union!”

Pam Harris and others took their fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oral arguments in Josh’s case were heard Jan. 21, and a decision is expected this summer. Josh’s story has garnered national attention.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court hearing, here is what AFSCME’s Bayer had to say in response to a Chicago Tribune editorial in favor of Pam Harris: If you don’t want to pay union dues, you shouldn’t be eligible for state aid.

“Caring for the disabled is a state responsibility. … Her attitude of entitlement is one I thought the Tribune rejected.”


In Bayer’s world of forced unionization and forced union dues, a mother who wants to help her son without giving AFSCME a cut of the money is entitled? A mother who has dedicated her entire life to caring for her son, and whose benefit represents less than one-sixth of Bayer’s salary, is entitled?

When it comes to an attitude of entitlement, that mantle belongs solely to the unions. But the story gets even more disturbing.

A few years before the executive order to unionize the program that the Harris family participates in, Quinn’s predecessor, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, unionized another, similar program for the disabled. The unions didn’t even bother taking a vote that time; they conducted a questionable card-check operation to claim a slim majority of people in this program wanted to pay dues to SEIU.

According to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, since 2009 the SEIU has siphoned more than $52 million in union dues from the families in this program.

That’s money that was taken straight from these families’ benefit checks. It’s money that these families, who scrimp and save to give their loved ones the best care possible, could have used to make their lives a little bit better. Or it’s money that could have allowed the thousands of families on the waiting list for this program to have a chance at better care.

SEIU is making millions of dollars off of disabled people. Neither SEIU nor Bayer’s AFSCME said they will discontinue their efforts to unionize the Harris family and the others in the aid program that voted against unionization.

No matter how you feel about unions or issues such as right to work, this is wrong. The unions went too far this time. Families caring for disabled relatives should not be forced to pay money to unions they don’t want as a condition of receiving help from the state.

But apparently that’s too hard for Bayer and Gov. Quinn to see. Josh’s only hope now is that the Supreme Court rectifies this.

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