The Supreme Court ruling that struck down coercive union membership among Illinois home health workers could cost unions tens of millions of dollars, according to labor observers.
The court ruled 5-4 that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D.) violated the First Amendment when he forced home health care workers, many of whom were caring for sick family members, to pay union dues. The ruling will impact the SEIU and AFSCME, the two unions that earned millions from the scheme, according to Paul Kersey of the Illinois Policy Institute.
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"There’s $20 million a year they are used to getting from home care people and [home] daycare people and they won’t be receiving that soon," he said. "This should bring an end to that."
Pamela Harris, a 52-year-old woman who collects several hundred Medicaid dollars each month to care for her disabled child, sued the state after discovering that a portion of the Medicaid payments was being siphoned off to the SEIU, a major Democratic donor. Quinn, continuing a policy put in place by imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D.), decided that mothers like Harris could be classified as state employees and be forced into the union.
The Supreme Court majority agreed with Harris’ argument that she was not a state employee and was thus ineligible for union membership. The ruling did not surprise David Phippen, a management-side labor attorney at Constangy, Brooks, & Smith.
"This was a plan to expand the map, to keep more people labeled public employees, so [unions] could add them to the dues paying rolls," he said. "It’s outrageous because no one in their right mind thought they were state employees."
The Harris case could soon spread outside of Illinois. Thirteen other states currently force home health workers and daycare workers to give part of their Medicaid payments to unions. The Supreme Court’s decision has laid the foundation to challenge those state policies, according to Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee, which represented Harris in the suit.
"This will help us in existing challenges we have going to end these types of schemes in other states," he said.
The decision could strike a devastating blow to national labor groups, despite the fact that home health care workers in Illinois paid as little as $30 a month to the unions, according to Semmens.
"We’ve estimated that there are as many as half a million people who aren’t state employees being called state employees for the purpose of paying dues," he said.
The National Right to Work Committee said that the Harris fight was the beginning, rather than the end of its push to end coercive public sector unionism.
The ruling focused only on Illinois Medicaid recipients, meaning that home health care providers in states, such as California, Connecticut, and Oregon were not yet free to opt out of the union. Semmens said the committee is willing and able to represent workers in those states, who object to the policies.
"A Supreme Court case doesn’t enforce itself in other situations," Semmens said. "It’s a very important win for individuals, but it’s not a magic wand that’s going to make this go away. We still have a lot of work to do."
Phippen said that doing away with coercive unionism could take a long time, but that the Supreme Court’s ruling could prove a domino in a series of blows to public sector unions.
"The logic [of the ruling] would apply if the facts were similar," he said, adding that "it’ll take other ‘employees’ complaining," in order to spur change in the other states.
Semmens is optimistic.
"Frankly, there’s going to be a lot more enforcement necessary… we’ve seen many times when unions lose cases, but don’t tell people they have new rights, the ability to opt out," he said. "The decision has shifted the legal framework in favor of the individual."