Posted November 10, 2015 2:42 PM
Updated November 11, 2015 9:35 AM

Caregivers sue to block union bond

Jacob H. Huebert
Jeffrey M. Schwab
By Patricia Manson
Law Bulletin staff writer

Six caregivers filed a lawsuit today accusing the state of Illinois of trampling on their First Amendment rights by requiring them to accept union representation against their will.

The state is violating their rights to free association and to petition the government by granting a particular union — Service Employees International Union, Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas (SEIU-HCII) — the exclusive right to bargain for them, the plaintiffs contend.

The plaintiffs work as personal assistants for disabled people or child-care providers for low-income families.

They provide these state-subsidized services through the Illinois Home Services Program or the Illinois Child Care Assistance Program.

Personal assistants and child-care providers are not government workers. But they are treated as government workers under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act for purposes of collective bargaining only.

The state’s recognition of SEIU-HCII as the exclusive representative of personal assistants and child-care providers forces them, the suit alleges, “into a mandatory agency relationship” with an organization that seeks to influence state policymakers.

That organization is a “progressive advocacy group” that supports such moves as increasing taxes, raising the minimum wage and changing immigration policy, the suit says.

And the suit says the plaintiffs don’t want to accept the union as their representative.

“They do not want to be forced into an agency relationship with this advocacy group or otherwise affiliated with this advocacy group,” the suit says. “Nor do plaintiffs want to be associated and affiliated with SEIU-HCII’s petitioning, contracts and other expressive activities.”

The suit seeks a declaration that the statutory provisions deeming personal assistants and child-care providers subject to the Labor Relations Act is unconstitutional.

An attorney for the plaintiffs, Jacob H. Huebert of Liberty Justice Center, said the government has no right to force people to accept union representation merely because they serve clients who received government benefits.

“These people are no different from other citizens,” he said, “because these people aren’t public employees.”

Other attorneys representing the plaintiffs are Jeffrey M. Schwab, also of the Liberty Justice Center, and William L. Messenger and Amanda K. Freeman, both of The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWF) in Springfield, Va.

SEIU Vice President James Muhammad responded Tuesday that the suit was “nothing new.”

“NRTWF’s sole aim is to weaken, if not totally destroy, every avenue for workers to have a voice on the job through a union,” Muhammad said in a press release. “SEIU Healthcare Illinois will continue its mission to improve the quality of life for both consumers and care givers despite opposition from NRTWF and other anti union forces.”

The suit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin.

The case is Rebecca Hill, et al. v. Service Employees International Union, Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas; et al., No. 15 C 10175.

With their suit, the plaintiffs say, they are seeking to build on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year in Harris v. Quinn, 134 S. Ct. 2618 (2014).

The high court held that Home Services Program workers who are not union members cannot be forced to pay for the services a union provides them.

The workers are only semipublic employees, the court held in its 5-4 decision, and therefore should not be treated as public employees.

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