Unions Ending Forced-Dues Collection of Home Healthcare Workers

Following Supreme Court ruling, SEIU local in Washington state stops deducting dues from non-members

July 22, 2014

The Supreme Court ruling that freed home healthcare workers from coercive unionization in Illinois has led to unions ceasing automatic deduction of union dues from non-members in other states.

A Washington state chapter of the politically powerful SEIU announced that it would no longer force caretakers—many of whom are caring for disabled family members—to pay union dues, according to communications obtained by the Freedom Foundation, a free market think tank.

Adam Glickman, secretary treasurer of SEIU Local 775, wrote a letter to an unnamed home healthcare worker saying the court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn called into question Washington’s policy toward automatic union deductions.

"In light of the uncertainty created by the United States Supreme Court’s June 30, 2014, decisions in Harris v. Quinn, the union has asked the State to cease deduction of your fair-share fees. No such fees will be deducted from your future paychecks," the July 8 letter says, adding that the union is also looking into the possibility of refunding past dues payments.

The court ruled 5-4 that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn violated the Constitution when he forced home healthcare workers, also known as personal assistants, who received Medicaid funding to pay a portion of their monthly checks to public sector unions. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, said that Illinois overstepped its bounds when it declared the caretakers public sector employees for the purpose of union membership, while denying them access to other public sector rights, such as liability protection and pensions.

"PAs are much different from public employees," Alito’s decision read. "Unlike full-fledged public employees, PAs are almost entirely answerable to the customers and not to the State, do not enjoy most of the rights and benefits that inure to state employees, and are not indemnified by the State for claims against them arising from actions taken during the course of their employment."

The decision erased Illinois’ policy, but did not eliminate similar schemes in about a dozen other states. Washington’s Attorney General has been asked to review the constitutionality of the state’s arrangement in light of the ruling, but has yet to issue a decision.

Under the existing arrangement, home healthcare providers pay the union 3.2 percent of their pay, about $500 of the $16,000 a full-time provider earns. The union, which represents more than 40,000 long-term care providers, raised nearly $20 million from dues money in 2013, according to federal labor filings. Local 775 spent more than $2.6 million, about 13 percent of collected dues, on lobbying and political activities that year.

Max Nelsen, a labor expert at the Freedom Foundation, says that the decision to end the practice of forced dues payments could hamper the union’s considerable finances, but only if workers are aware of their new rights. The letter is directed to a worker who specifically asked to be removed from the union rolls, rather than to caretakers statewide.

"While we’re glad to see that SEIU 775 has wisely decided to acknowledge the requests of workers who do not wish to support the union, we will not assume that the union will undertake any effort to inform workers of their new rights," Nelsen said in a release. "We continue to encourage the full implementation of the Harris decision in Washington."

Local 775 officials did not respond to request for comment.

Published under: Unions