Laura Baston recounts her experience as a victim of compulsory unionism in the News Gazette online.
In 1989, I worked as an accountant for the Marathon Pipeline company in Martinsville. I had two small children, and like many mothers, I was torn between my career and wanting to spend time with my family.
So I left my job and opened my own day care business, which allowed me to continue bringing home a paycheck while spending time with my kids. But I never imagined I would have to fight a government union and a state political machine to achieve that goal.
In 2006, now-imprisoned Gov. Rod Blagojevich forced thousands of Illinois day care providers to either join or pay money to the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU for “representation.” The SEIU — a politically-charged, government union — made millions from day care providers who care for children from low-income families and receive state subsidies for child care. Because I cared for children in this state program, I was told that made me a state employee and I should pay money to a union. If I didn’t pay up, then I wouldn’t be allowed to care for children from families who rely on state assistance for child care.
I didn’t want to turn away children, so I had no choice but to pay the SEIU.
I didn’t understand how paying money to the SEIU benefited me. I was told that the union improved my working conditions and increased my pay. But I owned my own business, my working conditions were set by me, and my pay was what I decided to charge the families I helped.
For years, I silently accepted that this was simply a part of my life now. That is, until last year.
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in a case that originated in Illinois, called Harris v. Quinn. This ruling made the state’s attempts to force-unionize day care providers illegal.
It was surreal having a U.S. Supreme Court decision vindicate the struggle that I fought for years.
After the court’s ruling, I wrote a letter to former Gov. Pat Quinn to stop the state from forcing me to pay the union. The union was not helping me care for my children and I was not receiving the benefits from a union “representing” me. Because I opted out of the union, I am taking care of my children and working for my families without Illinois politicians or a government union getting in the way.
I’m not against unions; some people want to belong to a union, and they should be free to do so. But unions aren’t a fit for everyone, and it wasn’t a fit for me. I didn’t choose a job that was part of a union and I didn’t choose to join or pay money to a union. Years after I started my day care business I was forced to pay the SEIU in order to keep helping kids in need. That was wrong, and when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling I wanted to make sure my rights were protected, too.
Now I’m telling my story and trying to help Illinois child care providers know their rights and do what’s best for them, their businesses and the children they care for.
I’ve worked with the Illinois Policy Institute to start the website careforillinois.com to give day care providers the tools to know what benefits they do or do not receive from the union and how to leave the union if they choose.
Opting out of the union was the right decision for me. It didn’t impact my health insurance eligibility or decrease my pay. I’m proud to tell my story and help others have the tools they need to be successful. I hope that all day care providers in Illinois can learn their rights and make the informed decision about whether leaving the union is right for them.
Laura Baston lives in Casey. To learn more about her story, visit careforillinois.com.