The politically powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has pocketed more than $50 million from home healthcare workers forced to pay union dues by two Democratic governors in Illinois, according to new study.
Documents obtained by the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) revealed that the union received $52 million from home healthcare workers, including many people caring for physically disabled relatives, between 2008 and 2013.
"The SEIU has been taking in the neighborhood of $10 million per year off of the rehab unit," said IPI labor expert Paul Kersey. "These are 20,000 people who take care of disabled relatives and patients and they weren’t able to prevent themselves from being unionized."
These workers are known as personal assistants or rehab workers. They care for physically disabled patients who receive Medicaid money to pay for at-home care. While many of the homecare workers are related to their patients, Democratic Governors Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn declared them state employees beginning in 2003.
A separate group of home healthcare workers, who provide care for patients and relatives with mental disabilities, are now challenging that policy before the Supreme Court after multiple unionization attempts by SEIU. Kersey said the latter group is trying to avoid the same fate as the personal assistants.
"The dues are a guaranteed benefit for the union, rather than a benefit to the homecare worker," he said.
The SEIU received exclusive representation rights over the state’s 20,475 personal assistants in 2003 without holding a union election.
The union launched an aggressive card check election and presented the state with 10,627 cards authorizing union representation. Nearly 90 percent of those signatures came from existing union members, while only 10 percent of the at-home caregivers assented to SEIU organization attempts.
That means that 90 percent of the previously non-union caregivers either voted no or abstained from signing a card, according to Kersey.
"Card check is a very unreliable way to determine whether you have a majority," he said. "The petition was a mixture of people the union claimed as members and people who signed cards and they still only got a bare majority."
That is not the only pitfall that comes with a card check campaign, however.
"Cards can be signed through intimidation, fraud, and confusion, not just because a worker feels that the union will help him or her," Kersey said.
Pamela Harris, the 55-year-old caregiver challenging the policy before the Supreme Court, told the Washington Free Beacon that SEIU organizers tried to trick her into signing a card during an "aggressive" card check campaign.
"They gave me a card to sign and told me that it was only to let their bosses know that they had spoken to me," Harris said. "Luckily, I don’t sign anything."
The state, which opened the door to unionizing Harris and 5,000 fellow at-home caregivers, did not provide much assistance in understanding the unionization process.
"The state was unable to share any information because they had to remain neutral, which meant you were on your own," Harris said. "So I began to increase my role in educating [my peers] … telling them that they have the right to vote ‘no’ to the union."
Kersey said that a similar education and legal effort could have prevented the personal assistants from surrendering so much money to the union.
"One of the things this case illustrates is how state labor laws reward unions by forcing them into places where they’re not needed," he said. "The [policy] created perverse incentives for unions and politicians to unionize family members."