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Policy: Labor

Despite Supreme Court ruling, Illinois caregivers still obligated to meet with union

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Illinois,Health Care,SEIU,Harris v. Quinn

A Supreme Court majority may have said Monday that Illinois cannot force state-subsidized home health care workers to support a union, but that doesn't mean that state officials will make it easy for those workers to be left alone.

Under a newly-adopted state policy, potential caregivers under the state's Home Services Program must first complete a mandatory training session before they qualify. And where do they get this qualification? From the Service Employees International Union.

That's mighty convenient for SEIU. While the Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn ruling on Monday said it was a violation of caregivers' rights to force them to pay union fees, new ones will now be dependent on SEIU to get into the caregiver program.

At the very least, the union is now assured that every new entrant will be forced to meet with them at their own offices, where they can make the pitch for joining up. Existing caregivers will apparently be exempt from this.

An official notice by the Illinois Department of Human Services states, in boldface, "If you hire a new IP [individual provider] who has not worked in the Home Services Program in the previous 12 months, please inform them that they must call the SEIU Member Resource Center ... and register to attend this mandatory orientation." The notice was provided to the Washington Examiner by an Illinois caregiver.

The new policy was conceived and implemented prior to the Supreme Court ruling, but is apparently going into effect now. The rule was created in close consultation with the union. In an April notice, the Illinois DHS stated: "HSP continues to work with SEIU to implement paid mandatory orientation for new Personal Assistants as required by the new SEIU collective bargaining agreement."

The orientation is 2 1/2 hours long and is comprised of two paid one-hour training segments and one half-hour break. The half-hour break is specifically there for the union to make a membership pitch.

As the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the state and SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana, signed in late 2012, states: "The Union shall have access to such orientations for thirty minutes in order to make a presentation about the organization, representation status, member benefits and to distribute and collect membership cards."

The training is apparently not available anywhere other than SEIU. A spokeswoman for the Illinois DHS did not have an immediate response to the Examiner’s inquiry regarding the new rule. The union did not respond to a request for comment.

SEIU currently represents about 20,000 caregivers in the Illinois program. About 8,000 of those are "agency fee payers," meaning they are not official union members and only pay the minimum required by the union's contract with the state.

A 5-4 Supreme Court majority said Monday that it violates the caregivers' First Amendment rights to force them to pay union fees. SEIU faces the potential loss of thousands of members as a result.

That will be a significant financial hit to the union, which receives about $10 million annually in dues and fees from the caregivers. The union's Democratic allies will feel the hit too.

Allowing the workers' unionization in 2003 was one of the first acts of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a close ally of SEIU. Blagojevich was convicted in 2011 on 17 charges of corruption related to his duties as governor and is currently serving time in federal prison.

The state has not been able to show that it verified that a majority of the caregivers ever voted to be represented by SEIU in the first place.

Illinois DHS Mandatory Training Letter

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