unions

By Jon Ortiz
jortiz@sacbee.com
Published: Monday, Jun. 30, 2014 – 10:49 pm
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 1, 2014 – 7:39 am

The U.S. Supreme Court chipped away at government-employee union power on Monday by ruling that Illinois home-support workers paid with public money can reject union membership.

Although the court narrowly drew its Harris v. Quinn decision, the anti-union group that backed the lawsuit said it believes the ruling applies to California and 11 other states that compel millions of dollars in union dues from state-paid workers providing assistance to seniors and the disabled who otherwise would have to live in a care facility.

“We hope the unions will instantly drop any forced dues,” said Patrick Simmons of the Virginia-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which was on the winning side of Monday’s ruling. “But that probably won’t happen.”

Doug Moore, executive director of the 65,000-member United Domestic Workers of America, blasted the 5-4 decision as the latest attack on the working class by “billionaires bent on dividing workers for profits.”

SEIU California State Council President Laphonza Butler said it would take time to sort out what, if anything, the court’s decision means for the Golden State. In the meantime, she said, “We have no intention of slowing down our organizing.”

The stakes for her union and others in California are enormous. No other state has as many government-paid in-home support services workers or clients. The industry has been a rich vein for union membership growth the last 15 years during a period when labor organization plummeted in the private sector.

State data show 419,111 Californians are eligible to provide living assistance to people who otherwise could not live at home. About 450,000 Californians qualify for services.

SEIU California, for example, represents about 250,000 workers, Butler told reporters on Monday. Member dues run $30 per month. That means about $9 million per year flow into SEIU’s coffers from workers who in many instances earn less than $10 per hour. Other unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, represent the balance of state support-services workers.

About seven in 10 of the workers are relatives caring for family members.

Now Harris v. Quinn raises questions about whether those workers must pay anything to the union.

The case emerged in 2011 when Pamela Harris, who was caring for her disabled son, and eight other in-home care workers in Illinois said they didn’t want SEIU’s representation and shouldn’t have to pay any money to the union.

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