ALG's Daily Grind - Unions try to cash in on government support of home health care workers


Oct. 13, 2014

Permission to republish original opeds granted.

Unions try to cash in on government support of home health care workers

By Nathan Mehrens

When the New York Times uses an editorial to criticize your actions, that is generally a good indication that you are on the right track.

Such is the case of the Times' criticisms of home health care workers (leveled mostly at their attorneys) who do not desire to lose the ability to deal with the government (their quasi employer) regarding their situations and instead cede that ability to a union lobbyist. These home health care workers are providing care for their disabled children under the Minnesota Medicaid program. They do this as an alternative to placing the children in institutions. Certain states like Minnesota would like to make union representation of the parent part of the deal. The Minnesota statute on point makes the parents state employees just for the purposes of unionization, enabling the union to lobby the state on their behalf.

Unions are desperate to find new members and corresponding sources of revenue because today only 6.7 percent of private sector employees are members of unions. As such, unions are working hard to turn every person who receives any type of public benefit into a public sector employee that can be unionized. This has prompted unions to attempt new tactics aimed at gaining additional members from the public sector. The home health care context is one of their latest target areas.

Most of us wouldn't consider an individual who cares for a disabled child to be a public sector employee, and this past June the U.S. Supreme Court in Harris v. Quinn agreed that they are not full employees. As such, they cannot be forced to financially support the union's activities in lobbying the state government.

At issue in the latest litigation is whether despite the Court's actions in freeing individuals from financially supporting union lobbyists, do these individual parents have the right to freely associate and speak to the government regarding their situations, or whether those rights can only be exercised through the union lobbyists as the exclusive representative of the parents.

The principle that should guide the court in this case is simple; the First Amendment protects the rights of persons to choose freely what organizations to associate with, and that will lobby the government, ostensibly, on their behalf. The First Amendment also protects the right of persons to choose to not be represented by a lobbyist and to instead be able to exercise their individual rights to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Therefore, the parents should be free to decide to engage in their own discussions with the government regarding the services they are provided instead of being forced to go through a union lobbyist. Given recent holdings from the U.S. Supreme Court, this is the result that should occur if the case reaches them. 

It is unfortunate that this litigation is even necessary. Rather than designing a service that customers want, like any other business would do, unions have instead focused a good deal of their efforts on causing governmental actions that instantly create new members for them. This results in a much needed revenue source for the union and in many cases causes them little to no extra work. In the public sector context this is particularly problematic as described above, because it places the individual in the position of having a union lobbyist forced upon them.

Somehow I doubt the Times would be in favor of having a lobbyist forced upon them, especially if that lobbyist doesn't share their views. Unfortunately, they see no problem forcing this on parents who are merely trying to take care of their children. 

Nathan Mehrens is President of Americans for Limited Government and previously served in the U.S. Department of Labor.