Pam Harris, whose son Josh is the light of her life, never wanted to be a crusader. Her sole mission has been caring for Josh, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder, Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome, and spends most of his days in a wheelchair. Harris is his primary caregiver.
But the fight came to her, and today the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in her case against the state of Illinois and its governor.
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Josh and his family qualify for an Illinois home-based support-services program that lets disabled adults live at home. He gets $721 each month from Medicaid to cover the costs of the constant supervision he requires.
To the Service Employees International Union and Illinois’ Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, the fact that Josh’s mother receives a small government stipend given to home health-care workers makes her a state employee subject to forced unionization.
Under an Illinois law crafted by the incarcerated former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and enforced by his successor Quinn, home caregivers like Harris are designated state employees required to pay dues whether they join the union or not.
Some other relevant details in the case include these facts: (1) The 55-year-old Harris is earns less than the minimum wage. (2) SEIU donated nearly $5 million in contributions to Quinn’s gubernatorial campaign.
In January 2009, Quinn signed an executive order stating that home caregivers, including parents, are “public employees.” As such they are subject to forced unionization by SEIU, which was given exclusive representation rights over the state’s 20,475 “personal assistants.”
The union has since enacted an aggressive card-check campaign, presenting the state of Illinois with 10,627 cards authorizing union representation. Of these, 90% were signed by existing union members, while only 10% of the nonunion at-home caregivers agreed to SEIU’s attempts at unionization. To the state of Illinois and its union-backed governor, that matters not a whit. Harris was deemed a union member and required to pay dues.
Paul Kersey, director of labor policy for the Illinois Policy Institute, has said:
These aren’t government employees. These are private citizens who take care of disabled family members. No matter how you might feel about unions, they went too far this time. Trying to unionize families was a gross overreach.
Harris for her part told reporters:
One penny, one dollar taken out of [the monthly stipend] is taken out of support or services for Josh. Being in a union is incompatible, intrusive and going to interfere with the care I provide. The union is there to protect the union worker, so I don’t see how Josh benefits.
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