Supreme Court to hear arguments on forced unionization for home-care families

Since we’ve taken time recently to highlight oral arguments at the Supreme Court for important political cases, let’s take a closer look at one that hits closer to home. In fact, Harris v Quinn hits directly at the home. Illinois passed legislation that requires people who received Medicaid funding for their home care of a disabled family member to join a union and pay union dues, under the legal argument that accepting the Medicaid benefit makes them a state employee. Today, Pamela Harris gets a chance to argue for federal intervention in this transparent attempt to enrich the coffers of unions without any added benefit for the families:

A 55-year-old woman who earns less than minimum wage caring for her disabled son could unravel decades of labor law and strike a blow against one of the most powerful political lobbies in the nation.

Pamela Harris is fighting an Illinois law crafted by imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D.) and enforced by his successor Pat Quinn (D.) that forces her and other home healthcare workers to pay union dues. Her case, Harris v. Quinn, begins oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Tuesday morning

“I don’t want to be the face and name associated with anti-union campaign, but this is at its heart a mother doing what she thinks is right for her son,” she told theWashington Free Beacon. “I don’t see this as a union issue, but the current administration in Illinois has an unhealthy relationship with public sector unions. We got swept up in that.” …

The government is arguing that because people like Harris receive taxpayer money, they are state employees subject to union dues, though not the pensions and liability coverage that their fellow public sector workers receive. Harris was puzzled by the classification, considering that unions cannot negotiate other benefits for her family because the Medicaid program is capped.

“One penny, one dollar taken out of [the monthly stipend] is taken out of support or services for Josh,” she said. “Being in a union is incompatible, intrusive, and going to interfere with the care I provide. The union is there to protect the union worker, so I don’t see how Josh benefits.”

ABC’s Chicago affiliate covered the story last week:

Josh Harris, 25, has Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome compounded by physical disabilities and mental illness. His family is in the Illinois home-based support services program which allows disabled adults to live in their homes. The state and federal governments pay home healthcare workers a monthly stipend, far less than what an institution costs, and Josh is able to live at home.

In January 2009, Governor Quinn signed an executive stating these home care givers– even moms and dads– are public employees available to be unionized by Illinois’ Service Employees International. Those who didn’t want to join the union would still have to pay for representation. “What we are talking about is unionizing family members, parents in a home. For me, that is inconsistent and intrusive and will interfere with Josh’s care,” said Pam Harris.

She and other disability program members voted the union down and sued Quinn in a class-action lawsuit that will be heard at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. If the court rules Quinn was wrong in declaring home-care providers public employees, unions could lose several hundred thousand members across the country.

WLS also gave the context in which Quinn issued this order:

During his political career, Quinn has taken nearly $5 million in campaign contributions from the service employees union.

“A couple weeks after the executive order was signed and the union campaign began, there was Governor Quinn on TV with the SEIU banner behind him and the SEIU leadership behind him, and I couldn’t help but think that this was an exchange, a deal,” said Pam Harris.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Minnesota’s Mark Dayton used the same justification to force the unionization of home day-care workers, saying that government subsidies to the families made these workers state employees. His first attempt to do this by executive order (as Quinn did) got stopped by a state judge in 2012, on the basis of separation of powers rather than on the merits of the law. However, the Democratic-controlled legislature passed it as legislation last May.

The Supreme Court has to answer the central question of whether receiving subsidies for medical care makes citizens federal employees at all, and may end up taking a much closer look at an earlier decision, Abood, that could threaten public-employee unions (PEUs) on a much larger scale. Abood held that public-sector workers who didn’t want to join a PEU still had to contribute dues to pay for the costs of collective bargaining. If the Supreme Court just focuses on the first question and renders the obvious decision, they may not need to address Abood at all. But if the argument Quinn and Dayton make holds up to that scrutiny, it’s possible that the court will let Harris and potentially millions of other union members off the hook from paying any dues at all. I’d bet that the court will limit itself to the first ridiculous argument, but the possibility exists that they will go big here.

If Quinn and Dayton thought they were doing the unions a favor — and clearly that’s what they intended — this might end up as the biggest backfire of all time for the labor movement.

Update: Per Canopfor, the Supreme Court is open for business today despite the storm, NBC reports.