By Howard W. Foster -
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Harris v. Quinn, which may overturn this State’s compulsory unionization of Medicaid health care workers. This case has its roots in the corrupt Blagojevich administration, known for extorting contributions for the former Governor’s re-election campaign and lavishing patronage on political allies.
One of those allies was SEIU, the ultra-zealous union known for its close association with President Obama and for waging smear campaigns against non-unionized firms. Blagojevich was also close to the SEIU and one of his first acts as Governor in 2003 was to issue an executive order declaring that 20,000 rehabilitation home health care aides paid through Medicaid (a joint federal and state program), are employees of the State of Illinois. This, despite the fact that the aides are hired, overseen and paid by the Medicaid recipients themselves. They do not receive any money from Illinois. Moreover, this decree by Blagojevich reversed the State’s prior law which treated these health care workers as employees of the Medicaid patients.
Once they became State employees, they were eligible to unionize, which they did (this being Illinois and the process is skewed in favor of unions). Once they had done so, their representative, SEIU, entered into a bargaining agreement with the State requiring workers to pay generous union dues to the SEIU. Many health care workers have been justifiably unhappy about this arrangement.
SEIU designates part of those union dues to political causes. We know who the beneficiaries of their causes are. And last year, the Supreme Court held that public employees could not be forced to pay union dues used for non-union purposes, i.e., politics, an excellent decision decided on First Amendment grounds. Specifically, the State cannot force its employees to associate with a political party with which they disagree.
Governor Quinn tried to do the same thing with a new group of 4500 disability health care workers. But this time the workers voted against unionization. Perhaps they did not want to support the SEIU’s extortionate tactics. Or perhaps they don’t want to contribute to the State’s insolvency.
Not only did Quinn lose, but a group of the rehabilitation workers sued to enjoin the SEIU from collecting union dues from those that don’t want to pay them because they are not state employees, regardless of what the State says. They lost the suit, but this week the Supreme Court agreed to hear their appeal. The Court will now decide if these workers are or are not State employees. The case has attracted considerable attention in labor law circles, and has huge implications for the future of public sector unionization.
If the plaintiffs - the workers opposing unionization- win and Governor Quinn loses, the SEIU will lose a small piece of its union dues and find it harder to organize the vast number of joint public/private workers throughout the economy.
Howard Foster is a Chicago attorney specializing in immigration issues.