New Development in Foundation’s Harris Case

Although National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorney Bill Messenger, argued the Harris v. Quinn last week, there are some  new developments.  The state never verified the ballots for the first election which forced the first Illinois home healthcare workers into supporting the Service Employees Union International (SEIU).  This case has the potential to dramatically diminish union power over public sector workers who wish to refrain from union membership.  Sean Higgins of the Washington Examiner, has the story:

In a Dec. 12 letter, the Illinois Department of Central Management Services conceded it could not produce any documentation showing that it had authenticated the union’s 2003 claim that it had the workers’ majority support.

Nor was the state able to provide any after follow-up inquires by the Washington Examiner.

The workers, who mostly care for physically disabled family members in their home and are paid under a state-run Medicaid program, have been under an exclusive representation contract with the Service Employees International Union since 2003.

As part of the contract, the state deducts membership dues directly from the home workers’ paychecks. Illinois residents cannot do this work without at least paying a fee to the union.

Labor law experts are closely watching the case since it could upend a 1977 precedent that allowed government employee unions to demand dues payments from nonmembers.

The December CMS letter raises questions about the states’ 2003 decision to grant representation to SEIU Local 880 —now SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana — after a card-check election.

The letter was in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the conservative Illinois Policy Institute. IPI had demanded, among other information, any records “authenticating the submitted documentation used to show majority interest of personal assistants to be represented by SEIU.”

Matthew Sebek, the AG’s public access counselor, responded that “due to the age of the records and files at issue, we are unable to determine with any degree of certainty which records may have” answered IPI’s request.

That certainly sounds like they were saying they could not find any documents that authenticated the 2003 vote. CMS spokeswoman Alka Nayyar told the Examiner in an email Friday that interpretation was “not accurate.”

However, the only document Nayyar could point to that showed her agency had authenticated the vote was a March 11, 2003, letter from SEIU itself claiming it had majority support. Furthermore, the evidence the union enclosed in the letter — supposedly cards signed by the individual workers — was “exempt from disclosure under Illinois law” and therefore not available.

Do they have anything else that shows CMS independently verified the vote? Apparently not. “[W]e cannot identify what records may have been used to ‘authenticate’ those [SEIU] enclosures,” she said. In addition, the people who would know are “no longer with the agency.”

She added: “The enclosures themselves, however, were clearly used to tally the number of personal assistants who choose to be represented by SEIU.”

The official Illinois letter to SEIU granting the union exclusive bargaining rights states only that the union had presented “evidence” it had won, but made no mention of having verified it.

Workers also have complained that union organizers made misleading statements in an attempt to get them to sign up.

Kelleher’s letter also indicates that Illinois was already collecting dues for home health care workers even before the election. Even assuming that those were voluntary deductions from avowed SEIU members, it shows that the state was going to great lengths to accommodate the union.

“It was deducting union dues on behalf of a union that it hadn’t certified and hadn’t reached a contract with,” Kersey said.

Big money is involved. IPI’s FOIA request also revealed that since 2007, SEIU has received $52 million in dues from the estimated 20,000 home health care workers.

It is likely that some of these dues come from people who do not want be union members, although the exact number is not clear. SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana has about 93,000 members overall according to a 2013 Labor Department filing. But 37,000 of them — more than a third — are “agency fee” payers. Those are people who refused to join their workplace’s union but are still legally obligated to pay if they want to keep their job.

When a mail-in vote was held in 2009 to unionize the 4,500 workers who care for the mentally disabled, the result was quite different. Almost two-thirds voted against any representation, and the two unions vying for it barely got 40 percent combined.