U.S. Supreme Court Illinois SEIU case affects Oregon

Sen Doug Whitsett

by Sen. Doug Whitsett

The United States Supreme Court is currently deciding an Illinois labor dispute that may have major implications in Oregon.  Illinois Governors Blagojevich and Quinn have written and issued Executive Orders establishing that health care providers, who receive payments from the state for caring for disabled individuals in their homes, are by definition state employees that have collective bargaining rights. That Order authorized the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to organize the newly-coined state employees into their union.

Illinois has also adopted the “Card Check” method of forcing people to join the public employee unions. This method is in direct conflict with the requirement for secret ballot elections where each employee is able to cast a confidential ballot. Secret ballot elections have always been the measure of American voting for all purposes, including whether to either join, or reject, a union.

The “Card Check” method requires that union organizers must obtain only a signature, by more than fifty percent of the eligible employees, on an “intent to vote card” that favors joining the union, to force union membership on all employees. There are virtually no meaningful restrictions on the methods that union organizers can use to “encourage” an employee to sign that “intent” card. Under the “Card-Check” law, no secret ballot election is required and opponents of unionization are never afforded the opportunity to explain their issues in opposition to joining the union.

The Illinois SEIU successfully used the card check method to enroll several thousand home health care providers into their union. A significant number of the new union members care for their own family members within their own homes. They too are required to pay dues or “fair share” contributions to the SEIU.

In Harris v Quinn, the High Court will decide whether these Illinois laws have deprived Patricia Harris of her constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech. Ms. Harris receives state aid for caring for her disabled child in her own home. She has been forced to join the union, and to pay union dues, in order to continue to receive that state aid.

She alleges that the Union uses the dues that she must pay, to support political candidates that she opposes and political issues that she abhors. She further alleges that her right to free speech is being violated by being forced to pay dues that are being used to fund political candidates and issues that she opposes.

The High Court ruling may directly affect Oregon public employee unions because Oregon has virtually the same laws that are being challenged in Illinois. Democrat party majorities in both Legislative chambers have enacted these labor laws largely at the request of the public employees’ unions.

The first law created the “Card-Check” method of union organization in Oregon. Like Illinois workers, Oregon employees no longer have the right to a secret ballot election to determine collective bargaining rights.

The second law defined home health care workers as state employees, only for the purpose of being organized into a union. The Oregon Constitution limits the number of state employees to no more than one and one half percent of the state population. This law was enacted to provide for organization of the home health care workers into public employee unions without counting them as state employees.

Then Governor Kulongoski, a former labor attorney, signed both Acts into Oregon law.

The SEIU subsequently used the “Card-Check” method to force between seven and eight thousand Oregon home health care workers to join their union. Similar to the situation visited upon Illinois home health care providers, many of these new Oregon union members work in their own homes, and care for their own disabled family members.

Many believe that they should not be forced to join a union and pay union dues in order to receive state payments. They further believe that they should not be forced to pay dues or “fair share” contributions to an organization that uses those funds to support candidates and issues that they oppose. Never-the-less, once organized through the “Card-Check” method, they must pay their dues or “fair share” contributions to the SEIU.

Public record contribution and expense reports, available on-line at ORESTAR, clearly show that SEIU has been and continues to be a significant donor to Oregon Democrat candidates. In fact, the Union has consistently been one of the largest contributors of political funds to Democrat candidates and Democrat supported issues for several decades.

The facts of law in Oregon and Illinois are so similar that many legal scholars believe that the High Court ruling on Harris v Quinn may also affect Oregon law. In fact, Oregon law could be significantly changed with a stroke of the High court’s pen, depending upon the extent of their review and their constitutional determinations.

During oral arguments, at least four Justices asked questions that may indicate their support for the Constitutional arguments that Ms. Harris brings forward. For that reason, the eyes of Oregon union leadership are focused on the United States Supreme Court.

Senator Doug Whitsett is the Republican state senator representing Senate District 28 – Klamath Falls