The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) likes to present itself as the champion of the little guy. But officials of SEIU Healthcare—“the fastest-growing union of healthcare, child care, home care and nursing home workers in the Midwest”—aren’t averse to a little high-living.
For example, in FY 2013 officials of SEIU’s Illinois-Indiana healthcare division (SEIU-HCII) chalked up more than $1.1 million in travel expenses—$13,000 of it on D.C. hotel expenses rung up at President Obama’s second inaugural.
The union designated all that travel as “representation activity.” Also claimed as a “representation” expense: a $6,000 liquor store tab for “beverages for a Christmas party.”
But union officials may not party quite as hardy in the future, thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision. In Harris v. Quinn the Justices ruled 5-4 that Illinois could no longer force home-based caregivers to pony up “fees” for SEIU.
The landmark case was brought by eight Illinoisans representing two groups of caregivers—those providing in-home care to the physically disabled and those tending to the mentally disabled.
Under Illinois’ Home-Based Support Services Program (HBSSP), both types of caregivers—most of them family members or friends tending to their loved ones—receive compensation from Medicaid. It’s a win-win arrangement. The alternative to in-home care—institutionalization—is far more costly for the state and denies patients the loving care of family members.
But in 2003 then-Governor (now-federal prison inmate) Rod Blagojevich made a political power play. He issued an executive order declaring the 20,000+ HBSSP participants caring for the physically disabled to be “public employees” eligible for unionization.
Rather than allow a secret ballot, he authorized a coercive “card-check” campaign that sent union organizers into workers’ homes—often repeatedly--to convince them to sign off on union representation on the spot. Ultimately, SEIU informed the state that it had the support of 52 percent of the home health workers, and the state promptly designated SEIU as their exclusive representative. Many homecare providers have since complained the SEIU mislead them about what they were signing. (Curiously, the state has since been unable to present any evidence that it ever verified the vote.)
The state also promptly started deducting dues and “fair-share fees” for SEIU from the home workers’ Medicaid payments. Those fees took as much as $750 a year out of caregivers’ Medicaid checks. The deductions have put $52 million in the union’s coffers since 2007.