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Policy: Labor

After Supreme Court ruling, Massachusetts lets child care providers opt out of union dues

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Illinois,Massachusetts,Minnesota,Right to work,SEIU,Harris v. Quinn

State-licensed child care providers in Massachusetts will no longer be required to pay dues to the Service Employees International Union, the latest consequence of the Supreme Court's Harris v. Quinn decision.

The move suggests that the court's action, already a severe blow to Illinois public sector unions, is also having a profound national impact on Big Labor as well.

The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care made the announcement in an Aug. 1 letter to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. From now on, the state will only deduct union dues from "providers who have authorized such deductions." The foundation represents providers in the state program. It also represented the plaintiffs in Harris v. Quinn.

The state's announcement means that an estimated 4,000 providers in Massachusetts can now opt to stop paying union dues, a right they didn't previously have under the state's contract with the union.

That decision follows news that SEIU would allow the Harris v. Quinn ruling to apply to an estimated 50,000 Illinois daycare providers as well. The union also announced July 7 that if it wins an August election to represent an estimated 26,000 home care providers in Minnesota, it will not require nonunion workers to pay "fair-share" fees.

The various cases show that while the Harris v. Quinn ruling officially only applied to Illinois home care providers, it has created a precedent that is affecting similar programs in states across the nation.

"Thanks to a National Right to Work Foundation-won victory at the U.S. Supreme Court, SEIU bosses across the country are being forced to back down from their forced union dues demands," said NRTW President Mark Mix. "SEIU officials are no longer empowered to siphon off money that is designated for low-income and special needs children and adults who receive care at home."

The justices ruled in Harris v. Quinn that Illinois home care providers for the physically disabled were not really public sector employees, despite receiving state-provided Medicaid subsidies. The Supreme Court noted that most providers were people caring for family members in their own home, neither hired nor managed by any state official. The providers also lacked most other benefits available to regular state employes, such as liability protection and pensions.

The June 30 ruling meant that Illinois officials never had the right to enter into a collective bargaining contract on the providers' behalf in the first place. The SEIU has represented an estimated 20,000 providers since 2003 thanks to help from former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich. It is not clear whether a majority of providers had ever wanted to be unionized, though. The union has received approximately $10 million annually in dues from the providers.

An SEIU spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

UPDATE, Aug. 6: SEIU Local 509 spokesman Jason Stephany told the Washington Examiner there is "confusion" on NRTW's part regarding dues payments for the Massachusetts child care providers the union represents. "Our union has never collected fees from child care providers outside of the union dues members have signed up to pay," Stephany said in an email.

However the union's 2013-2016 contract with the Department of Early Education and Care did require the state to deduct "service fees" from the paychecks of nonunion members and remit them to Local 509. The contract specifies that these fees are "required as a condition of employment for all ... providers." Implementation of that clause was held pending the outcome of Harris v. Quinn, Stephany says, and due to the ruling the union has now agreed to not demand the fees.

"Agency/service fees are different than union dues. Dues are only paid by providers who have specifically signed up as union members," Stephany said.

In other words, Massachusetts child care providers would have been required to pay Local 509 a regular fee even if they weren't members had the Supreme Court ruled against the plaintiffs in Harris v. Quinn. That this would have termed a "fee" and not "dues" presumably would have been a distinction without much of a difference to those providers.

Stephany also forwarded the following statement regarding the matter: "Despite the anti-worker rhetoric and misinformation from national special interest groups, Massachusetts providers remain united in their efforts to ensure every child has access to quality early education and care. Thousands of early childhood educators in Massachusetts have come together to form their union in recent years. Only those who have signed up as members have paid dues. This latest attack from a Washington D.C. anti-worker group is just another attempt to roll back the unprecedented strides Bay State providers have made towards improving the quality of early education and expanding access to affordable child care in Massachusetts."

MN Personal Care

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Mass Childcare Letter

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