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Let's Not Unionize Home Health Care Workers

June 01, 2014

By Diana Furchtgott-Roth

Imagine that you are employed by a disabled person to care for her at home. Your salary is covered by Medicaid, because otherwise your boss would be in a nursing home, costing the taxpayer more than twice your salary. Without a vote or consent on your part, the state government declares that you are part of a union, such as Service Employees International Union, and withdraws union dues from your paycheck just like it withdraws taxes.

But with union dues, unlike with the Internal Revenue Service, you have no chance of filing for a refund.

That is what happened to personal care workers in Illinois, who sued the government. Their case, Harris v. Quinn, went all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided in their favor by a 5 to 4 majority. This saves workers not just in Illinois, but in a dozen other states all over the country, from having to pay dues to unions that provide them with no benefits and take political positions with which they disagree.

It is a disaster for unions such as the SEIU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which were hoping to rake in millions of dollars in additional dues from coerced members. Unions are shrinking, and they are under pressure to gain members by any means possible. The SEIU received $3.6 million a year in dues from home healthcare workers in Illinois, funds that will be hard to replace. Money is power, power used not only for bosses' salaries but also for political causes.

In Illinois, members did not sign up to join the union. They did not even get to vote on whether to be part of a union. They were just placed in the union through an executive order from Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who is now in his third year of a 14-year jail term for corruption. The order was then voted into law by the Illinois legislature.

Unionizing through a governor's executive order is far easier than campaigning for members and holding an election. Unions see these new coerced members as a cash cow, fed by an aging population. As the population gets older, more people would need in-home care, and more jobs for personal assistants would be created. The Labor Department predicts that the number of home health care workers will be 3.2 million in 2020, an increase of two-thirds from 2010 levels of 1.9 million. Without the Supreme Court's decision, every personal assistant funded by Medicaid in Illinois and many other states would be forced to join a union.

Writing on the SEIU blog last January, Christine Senteno rationalized Harris v. Quinn in the following manner, "If the Supreme Court rules against the ability of home care workers to collectively bargain in Harris v. Quinn, the ruling would put at risk the ability of seniors and people with disabilities to get the reliable care they need to remain in their homes." (italics and bold in the original.)

She continued, "Home care workers in Illinois have formed a union and bargained improvements in wages, health care benefits and training. These kinds of improvements have been shown to help states reduce turnover and make it easier for their citizens to recruit and retain home care workers." (bold in original)

Just one problem-none of this was true.

First, the plaintiffs in the case did not form a union. They were assigned to the union.

Second, the union did not negotiate the terms of their employment. Their customer was not the state, but the person who needed their care. Their job duties and salaries were set out in individual Service Plans, which had to be approved by the customer and the doctor. The work, as well as the annual review, hiring, supervision, firing, and discipline were all controlled by the customer, not the state.

Third, the Illinois law specifically said that the personal assistants did not share in benefits of state employees, "including but not limited to, purposes of vicarious liability in tort and purposes of statutory retirement or health insurance benefits." Neither did they did get other state employee benefits such as paid vacation and sick leave, life insurance, deferred compensation, worker's compensation, commuter savings programs, dental and vision coverage, and flexible spending programs through the state. They were only state employees "for the purposes of coverage under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act," i.e. for the purposes of paying union dues.

The decision does not affect those public sector employees who are clearly employees of federal and state governments and who do not want to join unions. In California, Rebecca Friedrichs is suing the California Teachers Association on the grounds that the requirement to pay union dues violates her right to free speech. Union dues, she argues, are used to lobby for a political agenda that is contrary to her own views. Her case, which is awaiting a ruling in the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, might not be affected by Harris v. Quinn.

Home health care workers make lower than average wages, and should not be assigned to a union and have their wages reduced. If the home healthcare workers had lost the case, then potentially anyone who received any money from the state without being an employee could be forced to pay dues. The Supreme Court's decision removes the ability of unions to prey on a significant and growing segment of American workers.

Original Source:



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