Fierce Legal Confrontation Continues Over Unions Forcing Membership on Home Health Care Employees
This edition of the Alora Home Health Software blog keys in on a state issue that could have rippling effects in setting a precedent for other states where unions are prevalent. In Washington state, Home health employees (defined as individuals and agencies who are reimbursed directly through Washington State’s Medicaid and Medicare system), are caught in the middle of a dispute between their legislators, the Supreme Court, and what is widely considered one of the most powerful public unions in the U.S, the SEIU. Currently, legislators are focused on averting the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in “Harris v. Quinn.” The decision in the case basically allowed individuals to opt-out of union membership if they so choose, while still benefiting from negotiations the organizations conduct on its membership’s behalf.
In the quest to work around this ruling, Washington legislators have put in place new laws that make it even more difficult for home care providers to opt-out, by increasing the level of difficulty for them to understand that option is available to them. One method of utilizing this through strategy is to hide the personal information, including addresses and phone numbers, of every member so that other organizations cannot easily reach them information.
Many are of the opinion that forcing union membership is not sound policy with regard to operating government-funded home health care. One instance was cited where recently hired caregivers were forced to attend meetings in which SEIU organizers pressured them into signing union membership forms which legally would prove difficult to void. If a caregiver went through the mandated meeting without actually signing up, the state would still automatically seize dues extracted from the caregiver’s paycheck until receiving written notice to stop.
In spite of such highly contentious activities, a large number (in the thousands) of caregivers have found successful methods to resign from the SEIU. This has cost the union almost 3 million dollars annually in uncollected dues from the caregivers around the state.
Now new legislation is being considered to basically undo the groundwork laid by the previous case. The goal of the new legislation according to some, is to ensure that all Medicaid paid caregivers (inclusive of family caregivers) are effectively forced to join the SEIU, and have few options to avoid official membership and paying the dues that come along with it.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on a related case that could erode into a union’s ability to continue operating as they have been simply based upon the fact that they have done so in the past. Union supporters assert that higher employee pay, more desirable working conditions, and a significant jump in the quality of benefits, are all attributable to the union efforts of battling on behalf of home care providers.
The perception or reality of forced membership within any public union has other repercussions, including the political and systemic support that being a member of a union itself offers to said member. This concept of having or not having a choice on the part of the caregivers has become the crux of the litigation heading to the Supreme Court for a final decision. While these battles rage on, the caregivers are caught in the middle of a fight where both sides have dueling interests, and which may not have a final ruling or solution for years going forward. Where ever the decision falls, other states, particularly those where unions are large players in the home health industry, are no doubt watching closely.
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