Starting in October, home-based caregivers have been required to attend “training sessions”organized by the state and led by the SEIU. The state is paying the SEIU as much as $2 million to conduct these so-called “trainings,” which some participants have told us is nothing more than a heavy-handed union membership drive. As part of the training, caregivers are expected to listen to a half-hour long pitch for union membership. The SEIU is allowed to distribute and collect union membership cards before, after and during the so-called training.
Illinois Policy staff members have been present outside most of these training sessions, peacefully passing out literature and letting attendees, know that because of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn, they are not obligated to join the union or pay any union dues anymore.
The SEIU has been visibly upset at our presence. SEIU staffers have harassed us by shouting and confiscating our literature from caregivers’ hands and bags as they enter the meeting room. This week, their tactics intensified: The SEIU complained to the state about our presence in public buildings, and Illinois Policy was threatened with arrest.
State police at both the Rockford CMS building and the Bilandic building in downtown Chicago have threatened members of the Illinois Policy team with arrest. In Rockford, members of our team were told we were only allowed in these public buildings if we did not talk to people about leaving the union.
But by and large, our efforts have gone on without interference, as they should. A government building is generally considered a public forum where speech and leafleting is allowed as long as it is not disruptive. Our staff members have been passing out leaflets at buildings throughout the state for months, without any complaints from the public and without disrupting government business, including the training sessions themselves. State government officers have generally allowed us to distribute leaflets without interfering.
Threatening our team with arrest for exercising First Amendment rights and letting others know about their rights was completely unjustified. The Illinois Policy Institute is investigating this matter, and is prepared to initiate litigation if necessary to protect its own rights, and those of caregivers. And if nothing else, the SEIU’s bully tactics and state government’s willingness to confiscate and stifle speech they don’t like says a lot about whose interests they really are looking out for: their own.
Paul Kersey is Director of Labor for Illinois Policy Institute.