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Topics: Labor Unions

Only a quarter of Illinois home day care providers backed unionization

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

Did a majority of Illinois day care providers ever really want to join the Service Employees International Union?

That's the interesting question raised by a recent report from the conservative Illinois Policy Institute.

In 2005, the state recognized the SEIU as the exclusive bargaining representative of the providers, who mainly work at private residences -- often their own -- but receive state-provided subsidies through a child care program. The recognition was based on the union winning 13,484 votes out of 16,756 ballots cast during a mail-in election.

The key phrase there being "ballots cast." As IPI notes, the total number of day care providers eligible to cast votes in that election was 50,228. About two-thirds didn't sent in any ballots. So SEIU only had the affirmative support of just over a quarter of the providers. Nevertheless the state decided that was good enough.

The executive order making the workers eligible for unionization was issued on Feb. 18, 2005, by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a close ally of SEIU. Prior to that, the providers weren't officially considered state employees and were therefore ineligible to be organized. The mail-in election results were ratified on April 7, less than two months later -- a lightning-quick pace. It's not clear how many of the workers understood what the vote meant, or even if there was an election going on in the first place.

The circumstances are noteworthy because sometime this month the Supreme Court will release its ruling in Harris v. Quinn. The case involves two very similar Illinois programs that subsidize home caregivers for, respectively, the physically and mentally disabled. The case hinges on whether these workers really are state employees eligible for unionization, as illinois claims. A ruling that they are not could also impact whether SEIU continues to represent the day care providers.

Notably, while workers for the physically disabled were first organized as part of SEIU in 2003, there is serious reason to doubt that the union ever had their majority support. The union claimed at the time that it had the backing of 52 percent of the workers through a Card Check election. Illinois officials have not been able to provide any proof that they ever verified the union's claim, though. Blagojevich was also governor at this time. He is currently serving a 14-year sentence in federal prison on 17 counts of corruption related to his duties as governor.

When the state held a mail-in election for workers for the mentally disabled in 2009 under current Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, the two unions vying for representation, SEIU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, failed to get 40 percent of the vote combined. Those workers remain non-union.

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