Home Healthcare Worker Case Could Stunt Unions' Effort to Collect Forced Dues

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation on Friday, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorney William Messenger, who represents Harris and the other workers, said the state is effectively forcing these individuals to support lobbying officials for causes they oppose.

“The SEIU is acting as a compulsory lobbyist. The state is forcing them to support the SEIU to lobby the state over its Medicaid program,” Messenger said.

The plaintiffs argue that they should not be classified as state workers because they can be terminated by the individuals who employ them.

“We also argue that no one should be compelled to pay dues as a condition of employment, much less being a service provider,” Messenger said.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who argued in support of the union position during Tuesday’s argument, said that collecting dues from home-based care providers was justified because the union has a legal duty of fair representation. He said this requires the unions to protect all employees in the bargaining unit whether they belong to the union or not, and therefore, creates a “free-rider” problem since by law everybody will get the benefit.

James Sherk, a senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation, said organizing home-based workers has been among the labor movement’s main prospects for adding to its dwindling membership numbers.

Beginning in the 1990s, public unions in California, Washington, and Illinois began to target home-based healthcare workers.

“Unions have found out they have maxed out on their government employees so they have tried to create a new definition of government employee,” Sherk said.

He said homecare workers comprise one-third of the SEIU’s 1.9 million membership.

“This is the reason why in the last decade the SEIU has been the fastest growing union in the United States,” Sherk said. “This has been a tremendous growth industry for them.”

Sherk said adding home-based healthcare workers to the unions is “all upside” to them because, unlike in a traditional collective bargaining situation, there are no expenses.

“In traditional collective bargaining you have grievances to file, you have a contract that you have to negotiate and enforce. But if you’re representing an at-home daycare provider or a parent taking care of his or her disabled children getting a Medicaid subsidy check, there’s no contract that you have to negotiate and enforce, and there are no grievances,” Sherk said. “This is just pure profit to the SEIU.”

According to documents obtained by the Illinois Policy Institute under a Freedom of Information Act request, the SEIU rakes in about $10 million from the Rehabilitation Program alone. The documents also revealed the union received $52 million from homecare workers between 2008 and 2013.

The Supreme Court is expected to announce a decision by June.

“The implications could be very significant. Obviously if they overrule Abood, it means that no government employee, much less a service provider, can be forced to pay fees to a union as a condition for keeping their job,” Messenger said. “Even a more narrow ruling that just providers cannot be forced to support a union would itself have broad effects.”