Illinois Care Workers Lose Another Round to Union

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

Home health aides and care workers in Illinois who object to union representation failed to persuade a federal appeals court that the state violated the First Amendment by recognizing and bargaining with a Service Employees International Union affiliate ( Hill v. SEIU Healthcare Illinois , 2017 BL 74257, 7th Cir., No. 16-2327, 3/9/17 ).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit March 9 affirmed a lower court ruling that because the care providers are not required to join SEIU Healthcare Illinois or to pay dues or fees to the union, the state’s bargaining relationship doesn’t violate the Constitution by compelling the workers to associate with a labor union.

Care workers are “free to form their own groups, oppose the SEIU, and present their complaints to the State,” Judge Joel M. Flaum said, writing for the appeals court.

Continued Fight Over Union’s Status

Under Illinois law, approximately 85,000 individuals who provide home health care and child care services to low-income or at-risk families are paid by the state and classified as state employees for purposes of collective bargaining. The state certified SEIU Healthcare to represent the care providers after the union won their support in secret ballot elections.

In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court held that because the Illinois workers are not “full-fledged” public employees, they cannot be required to join the union or to pay dues or fees.

However, the Supreme Court victory did not end the controversy over union representation.

Rebecca Hill and other workers filed a lawsuit with the assistance of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center in Chicago. They alleged that even allowing SEIU Healthcare to serve as bargaining agent for care providers compels employees who don’t support the union to “associate” with the union against their wishes.

The employees said the bargaining relationship violated their constitutional freedom of association under the First Amendment.

First Amendment Challenge Fails

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois rejected the workers’ First Amendment argument, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

Flaum said the Illinois employees aren’t required to join the union or give it any financial support. The “exclusive-bargaining-representative scheme is constitutionally firm,” the appeals court said.

Judges William J. Bauer and James E. Shadid joined in the opinion.

William J. Messenger of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund in Springfield, Va., argued for Rebecca Hill. Assistant Attorney General Frank H. Bieszczat argued for the state. Scott Kronland of Altshuler Berzon LLP in San Francisco argued for SEIU Healthcare Illinois.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lawrence E. Dubé in Washington at ldube@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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