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React and insight from both sides

Tuesday, Jul 1, 2014

* Harold Myerson looks at yesterdays Harris v. Quinn decision from the liberal perspective

The case concerned some 28,000 home care aides in Illinois whose paychecks come from Medicaid. Before the state agreed in 2003 that they could form a union, they made the minimum wage. (It’s the state that sets their wage rate, since their pay comes entirely from Medicaid.) Currently, as a result of their union contract, they make $11.85 an hour rather than the minimum of $7.25. [Today], by the terms of their contract, their hourly rate is raised to $12.25, and on December 1st to $13.

The right to hire and fire these workers remains solely, of course, that of their home-bound patients and their families. The workers, then, are joint employees of both their patients and the state. And since the state allowed them to vote on whether to join a union, and since they voted to join the Service Employees International Union, these 28,000 workers have seen their pay doubled and have received, for the first time, health care coverage. Like all unionized public employees, they don’t have to pay that portion of their union dues that goes to their union’s political activities, but they do have to pay that portion of dues that goes to the union’s bargaining with the state that has produced their contract. The extent of and limits on their dues obligations were established in the 1977 Abood decision of the Supreme Court, which has structured the dues obligations of unionized public employees ever since.

Pamela Harris, who works at home caring for her disabled son, didn’t like those dues obligations, however, and sued to get them overturned. Those dues, however, aren’t all that onerous—for members who decide not to pay for the union’s political activities, they come to 2.5 percent of their pay. That means that if a full-time home-care worker is covered under the SEIU contract, she has seen her yearly pay (assuming 50 weeks of work) rise from $14,500 to (as of December 1) $26,000—a raise of $11,500. She has also seen her yearly union dues go from zero to $650. Not, to any modestly sentient being, a bad deal.

So, Ms. Harris had to pay $650 for her raise? Actually, no. She belongs to a different category of home-care workers, and unlike the workers who voted to join SEIU, her group voted against joining a union. She pays no dues to anybody. Her complaint is that the law would compel such payments if her colleagues had voted to go union—though the law also compels unions to win majority support from workers to represent them at all, which, in her case, the union failed to do. Harris’s apparent concern was that granting home-care workers more pay—something, apparently, that, unlike most home-care workers, she doesn’t need—would raise the state’s Medicaid expenses. The state, and numerous patient advocacy groups, countered that by raising the pay and giving health coverage to those workers, it improves the home-care workforce, reduces turnover, and saves the state money by, first, ensuring more Medicaid patients are able to stay at home rather than go to more costly nursing homes, and, second, by keeping the workers themselves from having to rely on Medicaid for their own medical expenses.

The state’s case was undermined by the fact that the state had little control over those workers. Plus, they didn’t qualify for pensions and didn’t receive other benefits that “regular” state workers receive.

* And from the right, we have the Illinois Policy Institute’s Director of Labor Policy, Paul Kersey

“Today’s decision delivers a major blow to the public employee unions in Illinois and nationally, and is good news to people like suburban Chicago mom Pam Harris.

“For more than a decade, government unions have been forcing people who are not state workers – moms and dads caring for children with developmental disabilities, home day-care providers for low-income children and others – to pay dues to a union as a condition of receiving help from their state governments. In Illinois, both Gov. Pat Quinn and now-disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich issued executive orders allowing the unionization of people who were not state workers. This resulted in government unions making $20 million a year from these workers, many of whom never wanted to join or pay dues to a union in the first place.

“But fortunately, today’s ruling strikes down those executive orders. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that plaintiff Pam Harris – a suburban Chicago mother trying to care for her disabled son – will not have to jeopardize and limit his care by being forced to join a union she does not want, agree with or support.

“The attempts by Quinn and Blagojevich to unionize Medicaid recipients were motivated by greed and politics, not by an interest in helping Illinois families. Luckily, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the families in Illinois and nationwide who are fighting to take care of their loved ones.”

* Also, Scott Reeder, who works for the Institute

At issue was whether she should be forced to join a union. Rather than place her son, Josh, in an institution, she entered a program where she receives state assistance to care for him at home.

But one Sunday morning, an organizer for Service Employees International Union knocked on her door and asked her to vote to join a union. At first she was perplexed. She’s not a state worker. She’s just a mom, doing what moms do: caring for her child. And SEIU is one of the largest, politically powerful labor organizations in the nation. But if a majority of home care workers voted to join the union, she would have to give money to the union – whether she wanted to belong or not.

Harris stood up to the union and helped defeat it in a vote. But she knew that wasn’t the end of the story. The union could just keep coming back and calling for more votes. And Pam Harris didn’t think she should have to give money to some union boss in order to care for her son.

So Harris sued the state, which had helped facilitate the union’s organizing attempts. The case ended up being called Harris vs. Quinn. But it might be more aptly labeled David vs. Goliath.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


35 Comments
  1. - A guy... - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 9:34 am:

    As prescribed yesterday, it’s worth reading the decision and the dissent for oneself.


  2. - Apacolypse Now - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 9:38 am:

    A victory for individual freedom.


  3. - Grandson of Man - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 9:43 am:

    Home healthcare workers have seen their jobs improve, thanks to unions. They got raises and benefits, and the turnover rate was reduced, from what I read.

    Chicago Sun Times columnist Mark Brown has an article out today in the paper edition that I like very much, in support of public unions and how they are the last defense against super-wealthy corporate interests who are trying to dominate our politics and economic policy today.

    Brown criticizes public unions for their conflict of interest–negotiating with politicians who they helped elect–but when it’s put in context of politicians on the right who do the bidding of of the likes of Americans for Prosperity and ALEC, it becomes mitigated.

    On one hand I accept the court’s decision, that the home healthcare workers are not “full-fledged employees” with supervisors, state worksites, etc. On the other hand, the workers, and other public workers, do benefit from being in unions. People who earn very little and make alliances with multimillionaires and billionaires who want their pay and benefits cut sits less well with me.

    I am very relieved that SCOTUS didn’t go all the way with union-stripping and national right to work. They could have, since the plaintiff’s argument in this case was that compulsory union dues paying is a violation of free speech. What stopped SCOTUS from going all the way this time? It seemed like a great opportunity.


  4. - SAP - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 9:47 am:

    I think Mr. Myerson’s numbers are off by about $2,000 per year if he calculated on a minimum wage of $7.25 rather than Illinois’ $8.25 minimum wage.


  5. - Mittuns - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 9:48 am:

    @Grandson of Man - Scalia, surprisingly, has been an opponent of freeriding, so he didn’t want to go any further.


  6. - Ghost - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 9:53 am:

    Interesting stuff.

    The history of early unions centered around, for example, the Chicago meat packing industry and the lack of any workers rights or protections. (see The Jungle) There is an intersting side question thought in the age of OSHA, and workers comp, and Dept of Labor etc etc do workers need to be organized in order to do well. Perhaps unions are no longer needed.

    When the unions where strong and we had lots of unionized industry, the avergae middle class family could afford a home and a car, vacations and retirment on a single persons salary. Our middle class was doing well compared to the cost of living and the rest of the world.

    As the unions decline executive compensation has soared, but the buying power of the middle class has shrunk. A middle class family now struggles with 2 people working to have the same standard of living that used to be held with only a single wage earner in the home.

    During the recent economic collapse where people were laid off, hiring was donw etc, the compensation of the top 10 CEO’s went up at least 40%, and their pay went on average from 189 times the average worker, to 240 times the average worker.

    The avergae median income in right to work states is falling and continues to fall. In States that have removed or diminshed unions the median family income has dropped below the national average.

    I am not sure why unions are so demonized, but it would appear that where they are removed wealth is transfered away from the middle class up to the hands of a few.

    The middle clas in the US is shrinking, and our avergae wages are declining compared to the rest of the world where wages are rising.

    So what is our goal in eliminating unions? to keep wages low? so the CEO of the chicago board can pocket another 40 million dollars annual bonus?

    That said I support peoples right to not be in a union; people should get to decide. I would just suggest they think through those deicsion carefully.


  7. - Glenn - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 9:57 am:

    In these times of increasing state debt and austerity we should thank Pamela Harris in advance for volunteering to forgo her raise of $11,500.

    If only more citizens of Illinois were to become as public spirited as she will undoubtedly demonstrate herself to be, the rising burden on taxpaying citizens could be stemmed.


  8. - Anon - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 10:03 am:

    So unionization almost doubles the pay of the home health care workers and because one malcontent, who never even paid a dimes worth of dues, is upset about it the life time appointed politicians in black robes (don’t even pretend they are not politicians, the idea that all they do is interpret law is a joke) decided to cripple unions by forcing them to represent workers can now freeload by not paying fees. What a joke. I sincerely hope that the legislature passes a bill that removes the non member home health care workers from the collective bargaining agreement and the union’s duty to represent them.


  9. - Grandson of Man - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 10:07 am:

    “@Grandson of Man - Scalia, surprisingly, has been an opponent of freeriding, so he didn’t want to go any further.”

    I read a great exchange between Scalia and the prosectution attorney, in which Scalia cast doubt on whether being forced to pay union dues is a violation of free speech, since government employers already place limits on free speech.


  10. - walker - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 10:09 am:

    This is an unusual situation in the world of union representation, (a family member cares for a family member), and the narrow decision limited itself pretty well.

    It might be true Alito wanted to go further, but the court was unwilling to extend it.


  11. - Obamas Puppy - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 10:13 am:

    It is difficult to fight people who advocate for policies that are not in their best self interest, just ask anyone that gets in an argument with someone from the TEA Party.


  12. - countyline - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 10:22 am:

    -It is difficult to fight people who advocate for policies that are not in their best self interest, just ask anyone that gets in an argument with someone from the TEA Party.-

    Self-reliance and family should always be someone’s first and second line of defense, with government assistance being a distant 3rd. Instead, we have become a society that expects government to bail us out every time we screw up.


  13. - CD - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 10:24 am:

    Glenn is correct, thank you Pam Harris for leading the way in reducing my tax burden. I shouldn’t have to reduce the number of flights I take in my private jet just to pay taxes. Teachers, firefighters and every public employee should give up income and support my habits rather than their families. That’s how wealth should be redistributed.


  14. - Pete - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 10:32 am:

    Is it possible to be an employee for the State of Illinois and not be in a union?

    Politically appointed staff aside.


  15. - Steve - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 10:32 am:

    Rich:

    Let’s not be shy about Harold Meyerson. He’s not a liberal. He’s one of the leaders of America’s largest socialist organization: the Democratic Socialists of America. Right now comrade Meyerson is one of the Vice-Chairs of the organization.

    http://www.dsausa.org/our_structure

    http://www.dsa-la.org/tag/harold-meyerson/


  16. - Pete - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 10:36 am:

    I would argue the point by Ghost by saying some union wages for a single employee are generous enough to support two non-union employees.

    one employee at $50/hour for a trademan (take home reduced for union dues and self insurance)

    versus
    2 employees at $25/hour for a non-tradesman (full time with benefits and non- dues)


  17. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 10:38 am:

    Here’s another thing to consider, home health care domestic workers end up held back in their collective bargaining ability, causing us to go back to days of high turnover and low pay. The people hurt then are the disabled. If the state wants more control of its nominal employees, then it has to do more institutionalization, which hurts the disabled.

    http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/06/harris-v-quinn-symposium-the-coming-conflict-in-public-employee-speech-law-and-the-immediate-risks-to-people-with-disabilities/


  18. - DuPage Dave - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 10:55 am:

    The national right to work people that recruited Pam Harris deserve a pat on the back for their achievement- someone who was never forced to join a union now has kicked a big union in the keester.

    About 40 percent of the workers covered by SEIU in the DHS Home Services Program are people caring for a family member. They have enjoyed a big increase in earnings under the SEIU contract so there have been benefits to people just like Mrs. Harris who have a significantly disabled family member.

    There’s no monopoly here for the anti-union people in caring for or about their disabled children.


  19. - Todd - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 11:00 am:

    Ok so they reached the conclusion that they were not true employees and only deemed such due to creative EO and legislative definition.

    They were not an appropriate bargaining unit.

    Lots of other non-union employees benefit from the work unions due. The 8 hour work day and 40 hour work week. Non-union construction workers often find their pay increased to prevent them from thinking about going union.

    It goes with the teritory.

    It is a narrow ruling due to the over reach of SEIU. But tees up other issues and gives the anti-union think tanks for lines to think along for their next attack.

    Interestingly, some of the dicta on pages 29-30 would seem to support the union’s position in the indiana right to work case.


  20. - Sue - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 11:02 am:

    People seem to have a very short memory-From day one, Blago used his position to reap campaign contributions for which he is now in prison- Does anyone really think his unilateral action soon after being elected to office in 2002 to extend collective bargaining to these people affording SEIU millions in dues had nothing to do with SEIU’s huge financial support to his election


  21. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 11:14 am:

    It is simple.
    If you want government union benefits, you have to be a government employee.

    Blagojevich abused his elected position to cover SEIUs over reach in order to get their election funding support. Blagojevich also tried to abuse his relationship with SEIU to get a golden parachute out of the governor’s office when he left. We have Blagojevich on the phone trying to milk SEIU for a position. The entire thing was a political stunt for cash.

    As government expands into our daily lives with daily fiscal assistance, the government unions cannot use that funding as a basis for expanding their reach in this manner. They can still unionize. They just can’t do it this way.

    We will be seeing a Minnesota court decision to clarify this further - soon.


  22. - Earnest - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 11:19 am:

    Once again, it was the employees in the Division of Rehabilitation Services Program who got the raise after voting in SEIU. Their pay rates are set by the state.

    Pam Harris did not get a raise. Her rates are not set by the state, but by the employer, which is the person with the disability or their guardian. The maximum amount of money available to that person to buy services is capped, so a raise for Pam or other workers would mean fewer dollars available for other services for her son. Everyone sets the rates differently to meet the individualized needs of persons in the program.

    The difference between Pam Harris’ situation and that of the SEIU-represented Division of Rehabilitation workers should be clarified in the discussion.


  23. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 11:28 am:

    Steve, don’t scare us with that naughty word, “socialist.”

    Comrade Meyerson? Seriously? Like Stalin?

    How about Einstein? Gandhi? Mandela? Ben-Gurion?

    Are they to be dismissed as well because you see commies under the bed?


  24. - AlabamaShake - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 11:42 am:

    **Does anyone really think his unilateral action soon after being elected to office in 2002 to extend collective bargaining to these people affording SEIU millions in dues had nothing to do with SEIU’s huge financial support to his election … Blagojevich abused his elected position to cover SEIUs over reach in order to get their election funding support.**

    I guess the entire General Assembly was in on the abuse scheme too, eh? 2 total no votes on codifying the collective bargaining rights.


  25. - Sue - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 11:45 am:

    Hey Alabama- in 2003 the legislature was not involved- Blago did this on his very own- too bad the wiretaps were not running earlier in his term- who knows what we would have heard


  26. - AlabamaShake - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 12:12 pm:

    **Hey Alabama- in 2003 the legislature was not involved**

    Not correct - the legislature codified the executive order with this legislation:

    http://ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp?GAID=3&GA=93&DocNum=2221&DocTypeID=HB&SessionID=3&LegID=3309&SpecSess=&Session=


  27. - Chi - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 12:43 pm:

    The hyperbole the right has to resort to in this case tells the tale. Myerson does a straightforward job of laying it out. IPI needs to fix on Harris’ son’s condition, call it David v Goliath, claim someone’s care was jeopardized, etc.


  28. - Cheryl44 - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 12:44 pm:

    Hey Steve, I’m a socialist too. Boo!


  29. - Ghost - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 1:02 pm:

    Pete yes you can have non-union state employees. they are a rare breed called Merit Compensation. ironically they have not been given merit raises regardless of performance.

    tradesman is a bad example, since they are covered by prevailing wage laws which generally means they are paid by the county rate.

    But your point about average pay is worth discussing. 2 quick points, 1st if your arguing that some positions are overpaid, I agree without quibly over the use of a tradesman instead of some other titles. The State could do better when it negotiates wages. Thats not a fault of having unions thought.

    That said said you are also assuming that it is good to drive wages down, which is the opposite idea to keeping a middle class.

    We rely on our government to do a lot of things and do them well. Do you want the worse possible person in the job? The State is like a very large corporation. You want to attract and keep people who are good in their fields. and that includes compensation packages.


  30. - Responsa - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 1:40 pm:

    I love that Rich posted solid, yes solid, pieces on this thread to give fair hearing to the best of the arguments/reactions of both sides of this interesting case. In contrast, some of the hyperbole in the comment section here is sad to see. With any fair reading of the situation one can see that both sides had some good legal points to consider (or the case wouldn’t have made it to the Supreme Court and be accepted for hearing in the first place.) My own sense is that the Supremes’ limited ruling on this case was on target and everybody should be relieved to an extent that the ruling did not veer further in any direction.

    A cousin of mine (in another state) who is a retired critical care nurse now lovingly cares full time for a severely disabled grandchild in home. She’s watched this case with great interest from afar and has shared her views with me on why as a family member care provider she was all the way in Ms. Harris’ corner here.


  31. - Anon - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 3:59 pm:

    I am still waiting to hear from those who are droning on about government overreach, socialism, and other red herrings to please explain to me how it is fair for the law to require union to spend precious resources bargaining for and representing people who do not pay dues. Those trying to conflate this with lobbyist are being dishonest. The IMA does not negotiate contracts, represent in arbitration/grievances, or bargain for its members, no less non members of an industry group. Unions do lobbying, but they also do a whole host of other things that lobbyist do not.


  32. - Sally74 - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 4:51 pm:

    It appears that most of the commenters are not familiar with the program in which Ms. Harris’ son is enrolled. The state sets a CAP on how much she can receive to purchases services. It is the same cap for all adults. A parent/guardian can choose from a list of Medicaid approved services what they want to purchase based upon their child’s needs. If a parent chooses to provide the direct care services themselves, they can determine the wage. However, the more they pay themselves the less other types of services they can purchase. Do you want to pay yourself more or get more hours of Occupation or Physical Therapy? Do you want to have enough money left to hire a non-relative when you need to take a much needed respite from the 24/7 care of your adult child? It’s not about the benefits of collecting bargaining, but getting the needed services for your child on a limited amount of Medicaid funding. Many families in this program have to constantly make concessions about getting the services that their child needs because of the CAP on the funding. The CAP is based upon the current federal level of SSI and not a union contract.


  33. - Responsa - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 5:44 pm:

    Well done, Sally74. Thank you.


  34. - prisoner of cook - Tuesday, Jul 1, 14 @ 5:59 pm:

    First of all a quinster exec order to give his political supporters at SEIU the right to collect big $$ from caregivers who then get a raise. Why not an exec order giving the underpaid caregivers decent pay instead? Oh - no $$ for SEIU.


  35. - Anon - Wednesday, Jul 2, 14 @ 7:16 am:

    The Harris plaintiffs did themselves a great disservice in allowing their case to be run by people out to bust unions. Post-decision, Pam Harris has been busy sending emails (she’s a big sender of emails) to disability advocates saying that she, and parents like her, want to be able to sit at the table with disability advocates and work together on community living advocacy. However, the escalation of the lawsuit to the SCOTUS had the result of convincing many disability advocates that Harris was not simply acting as a parent but as a tool of the political forces that aim to actually destroy the social safety network that allows thousands of people with disabilities in Illinois to live independently under the Home Services Program. The Harris plaintiffs really ran with the limelight provided by the union busters. In short, her claim that she was acting solely as a parent who wanted to be left alone by the union appears profoundly inauthentic.


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        * 13th Dist. Candidates Talk NAFTA, Ebola During Springfield Debate
        * Attorneys Due In Court For Quinn Hiring Lawsuit
        * Small Campaign Contributions Amount To Chump Change
        * Civic Fed: Lawmakers Once Again Taking Illinois Down Bad Budget Path
        * Cheddar's Leaves Springfield WUIS-SJR Business Report
        * Area Cub Scouts Burned In Explosion
        * Notes On The Final Governor Debate


        * Our Opinion: Frerichs has the expertise to be Illinois treasurer
        * Robert Kaestner: Good education policy is good health policy
        * Eugene Robinson: Warren makes the case for a presidential run
        * Bernard Schoenburg: Local Rauner ad leaves out ‘everything Springfield isn’t’ line
        * Minimum wage increase supporters urge early voting
        * George Will: In Kentucky, a constitutional moment
        * Sun-Times political reporter resigns following Rauner complaint
        * Federal judge orders court-appointed monitor for IDOT hiring
        * Our Opinion: Choice for Illinois comptroller comes down to experience
        * Rep. Raymond Poe to undergo stem cell transplant


        * Board agrees to add paths at five Champaign parks
        * Wednesday's prep highlights: Danville, STM soccer teams advance
        * Oct. 24 Illinois football/recruiting chat
        * One injured in motorcycle crash
        * Regional HS Soccer: Danville vs. Urbana
        * Davenport aldermen approve coyote hunt
        * Rotaract Club hosting Halloween Fun Run
        * Municipal court notes
        * Artist to sell glass pumpkins
        * (No heading)


        * Roskam: Feds may help fund W. Chicago thorium cleanup
        * Oberweis, Durbin go into -- and leave -- debate swinging
        * Dold, Schneider sling mud during last TV debate
        * U.S. to track everyone coming from Ebola nations
        * Jacobs hoping its Halloween treat is a playoff game

        * Patrick Cannon defense strategy rare but n...
        * Feds fine Jesse Jackson Jr.'s campaign com...
        * Ex-Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. faces sen...
        * Representative Jan Schakowsky Sends Letter...
        * Rep. candidate pushes to uphold marriage b...
        * Reps. Schakowsky and Waxman Introduce Bill...
        * Statement by Representative Jan Schakowsky...
        * U.S. House Passes Resolution Condemning An...
        * FAA Rejects Call For New O'Hare Noise Stud...
        * Representatives Quigley, Duckworth, Schako...

        * Senate candidates Durbin, Oberweis debate...
        * Senate candidates square off in debate...
        * Senate candidates square off in debate...
        * Senate candidates square off in debate...
        * McConnell seeks clean slate for Republican......

        * Officials continue push for funds to clean......
        * Online Marketplace for Sex Led Indiana Ser......

        * The True North Strong and Free...
        * The College Football Report: Jameis State
        * Chicagoetry: Sixteen Movies Ago
        * More Details About Decatur Classical School's Possible Move To Uptown
        * New poll numbers for Illinois congressional races
        * McKinney’s “Why I quit” gone from Facebook. But here it is.
        * Electing school boards.
        * Waukegan update. End the curfew.
        * Stand for Children PAC supports SB16, donates to both Dems and Republicans
        * New Polls: Illinois legislative races


        * TV Breaking News: Ethics blow for Pat Quinn
        * Federal judge deals Quinn ethics blow on IDOT patronage hiring
        * Rauner Statement on Federal Hiring Monitor at IDOT
        * Governor Quinn Announces Ebola Task Force - Group of Healthcare Experts to Advise State on Ebola Response Efforts
        * New TV Ad: Endorsed




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