One of the most-watched cases still to be decided in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013-2014 term is Harris v. Quinn, in which the plaintiffs are being represented by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorneys. A ruling in Harris could come as soon as this Thursday.
In Harris, the High Court is considering whether participants in Illinois Medicaid waiver programs such as the Home Services Program may be forced to pay dues or fees to a union they don’t want, and never asked for, as a condition of receiving state subsidies. The dues are actually siphoned out of checks sent disabled Illinoisans who are receiving health care in their homes, although they are officially labeled as collections from home caregivers. Home caregivers are often close relatives or close friends of the patients.
As Sean Higgins of the Washington Examiner explained a few weeks ago (see the first link below), forced unionization of participants in the Prairie State’s Medicaid waiver programs was never an issue until the election of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is now serving a 14-year federal prison sentence for crimes that include putting political appointments, such as the U.S. Senate seat that became vacant after Sen. Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, up for sale. Higgins summarized what Big Labor, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) bosses in particular, owe to Blagojevich:
The Illinois case is notable for how it stretches the definition of “state employee” to the breaking point. In fact, for most of the program’s existence, the state explicitly said home caregivers were not employees.
How and why that changed is a case study in how public sector unionism has corrupted the political process.
When the question was first brought to the State Labor Relations Board in 1985, the board ruled that because the Medicaid money went directly to the care recipient, that person was the primary employer, not the state.
Without a common employer, there could be no union for caregivers.
The ruling made sense even though the caregiver and recipient are also often family members. It’s those two who work out the terms of the agreement.
The care recipient can even fire the caregiver at any time. While Illinois does set standards, the caregivers don’t report to state officials. Nor do they have any common workplace.
That changed when Rod Blagojevich was elected governor in 2002. The ambitious Democrat was particularly close to SEIU, which donated $800,000 to his campaign.
Tom Balanoff, head of the union’s Illinois council and a personal friend of Blagojevich, said at a February 2003 victory rally: “We couldn’t have a better ally supporting us. We elected a person who is going to be with us through thick and thin.”
The new governor moved quickly to repay the union’s support, issuing a March 4, 2003, executive order making home health care workers state employees eligible for collective bargaining.
Tellingly, the order specified that they were not state employees for the purpose of receiving pensions or other state-mandated benefits.
One week later, SEIU Local 880 presented a claim to Illinois that it had a majority of the workers’ support. Five days after that, on March 17, the state certified the union — SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana — as the workers’ “exclusive representative.” It remains so to this day.
The union did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The governor’s favoritism toward SEIU was so pronounced — Balanoff later received an appointment to the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board — that other unions, including theAmerican Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, complained.
Illinois was in such a hurry to give SEIU a contract that it apparently did nothing to verify that the union had fairly won the election.
Last year, the Illinois Policy Institute filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the state seeking “any and all documents related to authenticating the submitted documentation used [in 2003] to show majority interest of personal assistants to be represented by SEIU.”
In December, the state’s Department of Central Management Services responded that “due to the age of the records and files at issue” it was “unable to determine” what answered their query.
That certainly sounded like officials were saying they could not find any documents authenticating the 2003 vote.
None of the history recounted by Higgins in his article early last month is in dispute. But apologists for the SEIU brass and the extraction of forced union dues from the disabled and their caregivers would like the public to forget about it. In a column first published late last month, Big Labor cheerleader Michael Hiltzik of the L.A. Times opted to pretend that Blagojevich had nothing to do with the Harris case (see the second link below):
The roots of the [Harris v. Quinn] case date back to 2003, when the Illinois Legislature designated some home healthcare workers public employees . . . .
It is true that, after Blagojevich arbitrarily redefined caregivers in Illinois’s Home Services Program as “employees” solely so that they could be forced to pay union dues, his allies in the Legislature passed a law statutorily authorizing what he had already done by fiat. But there is no reason to believe legislators would have done this had not the governor first acted unilaterally.
It would certainly be convenient for Michael Hiltzik and others of his ilk if they could airbrush Blagojevich, now residing in the Federal Correctional Institute in Englewood, Colo., out of the history of a forced-unionism scheme they applaud. But forgetting about everything the ex-governor did doesn’t change the facts.