Summary: In over a dozen states union-friendly politicians skim vast sums every year off people taking care of low-income children and disabled loved ones; the money is then funneled to unions. This scheme, which was overturned by the Supreme Court, is still partially functioning in some states.
State-level monkey business, before the ruling
The unionization of Illinois’s home healthcare workers was made possible by disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich (D), currently in prison for, among other things, trying to sell newly-elected President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder.
In 2003, Blagojevich declared that home healthcare workers for the physically disabled were state employees. In 2009, then-Gov. Pat Quinn (D), of “v. Quinn” fame, broadened that to include home health care workers for the disabled. However, they were a weird kind of state employee, newly classified as “non-employee employees.”
“Tellingly,” explained the Washington Examiner, “both declarations stated that they were not public employees for the purposes of state pensions, health benefits, or protections from civil liability. Just unionization.”
Nor was Illinois the only state to engage in such sophistry to enable the unions dues skim: In National Review, Center of the American Experiment Vice President Kim Crockett tells the story of Minnesotan Kris Greene. Like Joshua Harris, Greene’s youngest daughter Meredie also suffers from the debilitating Rubenstein-Taybi Syndrome.
In 2011, representatives for the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) doorbelled Greene and tried to sell her “aggressively” on union membership. They wanted her signature on a card triggering a unionization election. Greene found this effort confusing, since her workplace is her home and her technical employer her disabled adult daughter. She did some digging and learned that Gov. Mark Dayton (D) had “issued an executive order declaring home-care providers ‘state employees’ but only for the purpose of collective bargaining.”
The unionization of home healthcare workers portended costly consequences for Greene: the least she would have deducted from her check was an “agency fee” set at 85% of dues. She challenged the governor’s order in court and won, only to see the legislature pass, and the governor sign, legislation that amounted to the same thing. The SEIU then managed to win a low-turnout unionization election and subsequently set dues at 3%, or up to $948 a year.
Before this legislation, Greene had received regular increases in compensation from the federal government in the form of cost-of-living increases passed on by the state of Minnesota. Also, the state had provided additional assistance in the form of specialized training by healthcare professionals regarding how to best care for her daughter. Now the SEIU has taken over all training. And instead of increases in compensation, Greene has seen the union “bargain” for a few PTO days and holiday pay—“absurd benefits,” as Crockett observes, “when you are caring for a family member at home.”
The only way which Harris and Greene differ from the many home healthcare and daycare workers in America is in the extent of their activism. They went after the unions and won.
Here’s another case: Ben and Tammy Olson are caregivers for their son Sean. “Having the union take our money was a real hardship on us,” they said. The Olsons noted that the dues skim ran to $2,000 annually and pointed out that this money might have been better spent on “gas, groceries, and medical bills.” Their bottom line? “The union has never helped us.”
Or consider Brad Boardman from Washington State, who cares for his sister-in-law “seven days a week.” In 2014 he told the Freedom Foundation: “Her Medicaid reimbursements help me care for her. For eleven years, the union has been taking money from her reimbursements without permission.”
After Harris, still a struggle
After Harris v. Quinn, it’s fair to say that some state legislatures and administrations have been hostile to reform. Even when technically compliant, unions have managed, with the help of union friendly politicians, to make it very difficult to opt out. They often set narrow windows, in some cases only two-weeks once a year when people can exercise their rights to stop paying the union.
Unions in some of the dues skim states still subject people who want to become home providers to pressure sessions where they are cajoled into joining and then paying union dues. And in yearly training sessions mandated by some states, they get another shot at making their sales pitch.
Meanwhile, Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers has indicated she will introduce legislation at the national level to stop the dues skim. McMorris Rodgers, from Spokane, WA, former minority leader of the Washington State House of Representatives is current chair of the U.S. House Republican Conference and is personally connected to this issue: her son Cole has Down Syndrome; she takes to heart any legislation affecting the care of those afflicted with developmental and other disorders. Also, her home state is ground zero for resistance to the dues skim.
According to the Freedom foundation, the state’s union skim, currently running at about $20.6 million-a-year was facilitated and perpetuated by two misleading voter initiatives: Initiative Measure No 775 kicked things off in 2001; Initiative Measure No 1501 passed in 2016. Both initiatives used the excuse of protecting older, vulnerable Washingtonians to perpetuate the skim.
Specifically, in 2001 the ballot promised to “create a ‘home health care quality authority’ and to establish “qualifications, standards, accountability, training, referral and employment relations for publicly funded individual providers of in-home care services to elderly and disabled adults.” Lost in the feel-good messaging in support of the initiative is a single startling fact: I-775 would create the framework for unionization.
Fifteen years later, facing the prospect of mass defection of home healthcare workers after Harris v. Quinn, another vague initiative helped to keep those workers in the dark about their Harris rights. The state’s official voter pamphlet for I-1501, aimed at “seniors and vulnerable individuals,” explains that the law “would increase the penalties for criminal identity theft and consumer fraud targeted at seniors or vulnerable individuals; and exempt certain information of vulnerable individuals and in-home caregivers from public disclosure.”
But the pamphlet failed to inform voters regarding the real point of the law: to make it hard for groups like the Freedom Foundation to reach home healthcare workers with the good news they no longer had to pay union dues. Another weapon (obfuscation) in the ongoing campaign to keep the skim going strong.
In the next installment of Dues Skim, we look at the unions creative alternatives after the Harris ruling.