The Spectacle Blog

Why Should Unions Forcibly Collect Dues When They Spend Them on Politics?

By on 6.30.14 | 2:45PM

Take a good look at the LM-2 financial disclosure form for the Illinois-Indiana health care affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. That’s what Jennifer Parrish, a Minnesota child care worker, did a few days prior to today’s Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn. The LM-2 form is divided into three categories: representation activities, political activities, and general overhead. There’s also a gifts/grants section that shows the SEIU donates money to certain organizations that return the favor with their own contributions back to the union.

“What the union describes as a representative function on the LM-2 is often quite political in nature,” Parrish said in an interview. “Unions make the argument that they have a separate fund for political action and union dues not used for politics. But if you look at Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, newsletters, and all of their publications, about 90 percent are about politics and have nothing to do with representing members.”

The personal care assistants who objected to mandatory union dues on First Amendment grounds prevailed before the Supreme Court today. In a 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that Pamela Harris, an Illinois mother who provides health care services to her disabled son and seven other Illinois residents, could not be forced to pay “fair-share” union fees.

Parrish has also filed suit with the district court in Minneapolis on behalf of child care business operators who are challenging her state’s unionization law on First Amendment grounds. But the ruling in Harris will very likely result in a favorable settlement in Parrish’s Minnesota case.

“If the Supreme Court rules that home care workers who provide for disabled family members and other individuals cannot be unionized because they are not state employees, then there is no way to argue that child care providers can be unionized,” Parrish explained before today’s ruling. “Even a narrow victory for home care providers in Harris should provide a full victory for home care providers.”

Since home care workers receive Medicaid payments and the states sometimes set the payment rates, there was an argument to be made that these personal care assistants are state employees, Parrish said. But this is not how the Court ruled.

“With child care workers, we are small business owners and we are not anyone’s employee,” Parrish said. “We set our own rates and our own working conditions.”

While today’s ruling in favor of health care workers who are opposed to compulsory union dues is a step forward for the constitutional rights included in both First and Fourteenth Amendments, the fight is far from over.

Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), is representing plaintiffs in a somewhat related California teacher lawsuit (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association) that challenges compulsory union dues. The Fredrichs case is now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. CIR’s amicus brief on behalf of the Harris plaintiffs can be found here.

A key question here is raised by the LM-2 forms: how much time and effort do unions spend actually representing their members versus plowing into political activism?

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