CHICAGO - Six Illinois child care providers and home caretakers displeased with being forced by state law to have the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) represent them have filed a federal lawsuit asking the state to strike down the law and remove the SEIU as their union representative.
This case comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Harris v. Quinn, in which the court ruled caregivers not directly employed by the state cannot be forced to pay money to the SEIU. However, the decision did not address the Illinois law declaring the SEIU as the sole representative of those providing care to people who receive subsidies to pay for their care.
“Harris vs. Quinn said these people [caregivers] cannot be forced to pay fees to a union," said Jacob Huebert, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, one of the firms along with National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, representing the caregivers.
"But the state is still recognizing SEIU as the exclusive representative for these people meaning that it is supposedly speaking on their behalf to the state. That’s still a forced association...it should be totally voluntary and it (SEIU) shouldn’t be purporting to represent people who specifically do not want the union’s representation.”
The plaintiffs, named in the complaint as Rebecca Hill, Ranette Kesteloot, Carrie Long, Jane McNames, Sherry Schumacher and Jill Ann Wise, have asked the court to declare they have the right to be able to decide their representation, as they want nothing to do with the SEIU. The plaintiffs feel threatened by the actions of the union, as since Harris, the "union has taken measures to try to get people to sign up that many of our plaintiffs find harassing," Huebert said.
He said these measures include sending union representatives to caregivers' homes "to try to pressure them to sign union cards" and "mandatory training sessions" at which union representatives present "heavy-handed" pitches about joining the union.
The plaintiffs are challenging a state law establishing the SEIU as the exclusive union representative of Illinois residents who provide home-based care for people with disabilities or for child care providers who provide services to individuals and families who receive state subsidies to help pay for their care. The law codified executive orders issued by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2003 and 2005 to the same effect, allowing the union to collect dues and fees from the caregivers, who, under the law, were considered state employees.
However, in 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in Harris that it was illegal to force people to pay money to a union as a condition of helping people who participate in state entitlement programs. More importantly, the court held these caregivers could not be considered state employees.
Similar laws are being challenged in other states, including Washington, Oregon and Massachusetts, said Huebert. Those cases are still pending.
“Our position is, under the First Amendment, the individual should be allowed to decide what they say to government and who will speak to government on their behalf," Huebert said. "That’s why this scheme of forced unionization of these people who are not state employees should be struck down.”
In addition to a declaration from the court, the plaintiffs are also asking the court to order the union to refund all fees paid by the caregivers.
Huebert said the Harris case remains pending in Chicago federal court, as a judge decides whether the case can proceed as a class action. If so, all home care providers in the state could qualify for relief.
A separate class action case has also been filed on behalf of the state's child care providers, Huebert said.