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Healthcare in the Home
Unions Tell Mom She Must Pay Dues to Care for Her Son

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case that could have massive implications for both public unionization and the future of health care. Pamela Harris is an Illinois mother who receives a small Medicaid stipend for helping to care for her 25-year-old son, who suffers from a muscular degenerative disease and mental illness. Under a law passed under Governor Rod Blagojevich, parents who receive any stipend for caring for their children are considered state employees and are thus required to pay dues to SEIU, even if they don’t join the organization.

Harris has taken her opposition to the dues all the way to the Supreme Court, where her lawyer is asking the Court to overturn its 1977 decision authorizing unions to collect dues from teachers who weren’t union members. The Times has more:

Justice Elena Kagan said that was quite a request.

“It is a radical argument,” she said of Mr. Messenger’s position. “It would radically restructure the way workplaces across this country are run.” […]

Other justices seemed receptive to Mr. Messenger’s argument, saying that the First Amendment limits what government workers may be forced to do to support bargaining positions they differ with.

“Your position,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy told Paul M. Smith, the lawyer for the health care workers’ union, “is that the public employees must surrender a substantial amount of First Amendment rights to work for the government.”

Home health care work should be an increasingly important part of the health care system. It both saves the system money and lets people receive care with dignity in the comfort of their own homes. We’ve talked before about the need for more generous reimbursements for home care, or for paying a wage to those who care for elderly or otherwise dependent family members. This Supreme Court case could have a big effect on the future of these kinds of initiatives.

Over the past ten years, unionization of home health workers has been increasing dramatically, but a decision in favor of Pam Harris would weaken the unions’ burgeoning power, as well as have ramifications in all other areas of public sector employment. The case also raises fundamental questions about the intersection of the workplace and the home; Harris has said, “I object to my home being a union workplace.” As more and more jobs switch over to the service sector, the relation between homes and unionization will become a more and more heated issue. We’ll be watching closely.

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  • qet

    And the juridification of all social relations continues apace. Soon it will be enough that a state allows you a standard exemption on your state tax return to require that you join SEIU in order to be able to clean your own home. The Supreme Court has proved itself fully capable of reaching any result it wants regardless of precedent. Let’s hope that the current Court perceives the unequivocal absurdity of this law and strikes it down, with prejudice!

  • Anthony

    “Many political institutions in the United State are decaying (Francis Fukuya). I think Francis Fukuyma’s essay in AI certainly helps explain and gives relevant context to issue of Feed. That is rather than SEIU, Home health care, and/or stipend, the case reflects outsize roles by judiciary and legislature precluding reform or rebalancing – as Fukuyama asserts; growing powers of entrenched political actors.

  • Tom

    Y’know, it’s this kind of nonsense that causes people to think that unions aren’t actually in it for the little guy.

  • rambler

    When it comes to health care workers, it’s the patients who matter. Forcing them into a union shifts the focus to having the union matter. Being part of a union will not improve the care the patient receives. It will contribute to the union’s power. A union tried to unionize the lab where I worked and we would have none of what they were selling. To step further and make individuals caring for family members join a union, is a totally selfish and stupid idea on the part of that union. It smacks of desperation. Does the union need money badly that it would take money away in dues from a parent caring for a child? Instead, the union should market a better reason so that people will choose to be members rather that be forced to join. Unions are driving themselves into extinction.

  • eliezel

    Invaluable discussion , I am thankful for the points – Does anyone know where my company might get ahold of a fillable DA 31 version to work with ?

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