* 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.