Workers seeking to take back millions in forced dues plan on taking their case to the Supreme Court after federal appellate judges rejected their class action suit.
Home health aides were forced to pay more than $30 million to the labor giant Service Employees International Union (SEIU) under an agreement hatched by former governor Rod Blagojevich, who is finishing up a prison sentence for corruption. The Supreme Court declared that arrangement unconstitutional in 2014 because home health aides, many of whom are caring for disabled relatives, did not meet the standard of government employment.
Several of those aides sought to recoup the money deducted by SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana for several years. Those bids were rejected, but new hope emerged after the Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees—a case filed by an Illinois state employee—that forced union dues from government agencies infringed on the First Amendment rights of workers. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, agreed that workers previously bound by forced dues contracts were entitled to take their money back, but said class action suits were not the appropriate venue for doing so.
"We agreed with the putative class that no one could be compelled to pay fair share fees," the court said in a ruling. "Janus does not require a different result on the narrow question presented in our appeal, namely, whether the class-action device is the proper one for the Assistants to use in seeking refunds of fair-share fees."
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which successfully argued the Janus case before the Supreme Court and represents the Illinois healthcare workers, said it will ask the justices to review the 7th Circuit decision. The Supreme Court asked the appellate judges to review its previous dismissal of the class action suit following its June decision. Foundation spokesman Patrick Semmens said the court needs to rectify the multi-million dollar fraud.
"As part of a backroom deal with disgraced former Illinois governor Blagojevich SEIU bosses seized over $32 millions dollars out of the pockets of tens of thousands of home care providers, and this ruling denies the victims of this scheme long overdue justice," Semmens said.
The 7th Circuit did not dispute the Supreme Court's Janus ruling. The three judge panel affirmed a lower court ruling that the workers in the class lacked the similar interests or harm to constitute a class.
"The answer to the central question that remains—how much money each individual class member is entitled to recoup—is particularly ill-suited for class treatment, because it depends on a myriad of factors particular to each individual worker," the 7th Circuit ruled.
The foundation has pursued the class action suit on behalf of home healthcare workers since the Harris decision. The Supreme Court has twice remanded the case to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Semmens said the appellate justices have erred in their interpretation of federal labor law, and the Supreme Court is needed to clarify the rights of workers who have seen their pay docked under coercive dues schemes. The case could have major implications for union coffers, as government workers in several states have filed class action suits to recover their docked wages.
"Unfortunately another Supreme Court ruling will now likely be needed to force the SEIU to return those funds to the individuals whose rights were violated," Semmens said.
SEIU did not return requests seeking comment about the case.