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Policy: Labor

Did caregivers in Illinois ever back a union in the first place?

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Supreme Court,Labor,Illinois,SEIU,Harris v. Quinn

Sometime within the next week - and maybe as early as Thursday - the Supreme Court will decide whether Illinois can force home-based caregivers receiving state subsidies to join a union.

Some, but not all, of the caregivers were organized by the Service Employees International Union in 2003. But the state's own official legal brief in the case filed in December, known as Harris v. Quinn, raises the question of whether SEIU ever had the support of a majority of those caregivers in the first place.

The very first footnote in the state's brief is intended to provide the legal basis for having awarded SEIU exclusive bargaining rights a decade prior. But the citation in the footnote is to a November letter from the state attorney general's office to the conservative nonprofit Illinois Policy Institute conceding that the state could not provide any documentation that it had ever authenticated whether SEIU ever had majority backing.

The relevant section of the footnote reads: “The State designated SEIU the exclusive representative after adding the number of personal assistants who, payroll records showed, already were dues-paying members of SEIU to the number of additional personal assistants on whose behalf SEIU submitted signed membership cards. The total number showed that a majority wanted to be represented by SEIU. See Letter from Benno Weisberg, Ill. Dep’t of Cent. Mgmt. Servs., to Justin Hegy, Ill. Policy Institute (Nov. 21, 2013).”

That letter from Weisberg, the state deputy attorney general, was in response to a November Freedom of Information Act request by IPI to the Illinois Department of Central Management Services. The conservative group had requested "the vote results from the certification of SEIU as the ‘Provider' in the Rehabilitation Program of the Illinois Department of Human Services.”

In response, Weisberg told IPI in a letter dated Nov. 13, 2013: “We have conducted a review and determined that CMS has no records responsive to your request.” In other words, they could not produce any documents that they counted or otherwise verified the votes. He nevertheless asserted that the state had done a count.

This was apparently the most definitive thing that the state’s own lawyers could come up with for a case going before the Supreme Court that directly involves whether caregivers in the program should be made to belong to a union. You’d think that they would come up with some document from 2003 instead.

Illinois officials weren't able to produce much more after follow-up inquiries from IPI and the Washington Examiner.

Is there reason to think that the process might have been tainted? Yes, there is: Rod Blagojevich, now serving time in federal prison on corruption charges, was Illinois governor at the time and close ally of the state branch of SEIU.

The union has reaped about $10 million annually in dues from the caregivers.

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