(MCT) — Various chapters of the Service Employees International Union have stopped collecting fees from home care workers who are not union members, a move that exemplifies the broader implications of a recent Supreme Court ruling.
The court’s decision only prevented SEIU from collecting fees of such workers in Illinois. But in an attempt to quench lawsuits by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, various chapters outside of Illinois have stopped collecting fees of similar workers.
“We can’t afford to be distracted by more attacks,” said Meghan Finegan, a spokeswoman for SEIU Healthcare. Finegan said lawsuits are a distraction from the campaign to organize an industry with some 2 million workers.
She said SEIU represents 600,000 home care workers in the U.S. and Canada. The union has also stopped collecting fees of child care workers who are nonmembers in Washington, Oregon, Illinois and Maryland.
SEIU also represents child care workers in Connecticut and Massachusetts but nonmembers haven’t paid fees in those states.
Nationwide, the union represents some 50,000 child care workers. It declined to say how many child care workers are nonmembers.
In total, SEIU represents 2.1 million people, including 243,799 who are not union members, a figure that is up by 2.7 percent from 2013. Non-members pay a “fair-share” fee that covers the cost of bargaining.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled in Harris v. Quinn that home care workers are not full-fledged public employees because they are answerable only to their clients and not to the state of Illinois. And as such, they couldn’t be forced to pay fair-share fees.
A previous case held that state employees who chose not to join a union may still be forced to pay union dues related to the collective bargaining process to prevent “free-riding” — sharing the benefits without sharing the costs. Unions had feared the court would overturn the earlier case.
Though it wasn’t that far-reaching, it still had big implications and created an incentive for workers to leave the union. “Everybody reading the court’s decision knew it could be a slippery slope,” said Wilma Liebman, a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, whose attorneys represented the workers in Harris v. Quinn, pledged to continue the legal battle to end “forced dues schemes.”
In response to the foundations attacks, SEIU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which also represents some home care workers, have launched campaigns to sign up former members who quit the union or workers who didn’t join when they were first hired. AFSCME said it has added more than 92,000 members since January.
SEIU said it has added 160,000 home care workers, who made up the majority of non-members. Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said it is now up the unions to show their members that they are valuable and that a union membership is something they can really benefit from.
“That’s why (the unions) are not investing in a legal fight,” Bruno said.
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