Union work can move ahead

Efforts to unionize home health care workers can move ahead, as a federal judge refused an injunction requested by the […]

Efforts to unionize home health care workers can move ahead, as a federal judge refused an injunction requested by the National Right to Work Foundation. While that ruling can be appealed, it is another victory for union supporters and a disappointment for union foes.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis ruled October 22 against the foundation’s request for an expedited injunction. Davis’ 25-page ruling states it is unlikely that union opponents would win their case in court.

Davis’ ruling also indicates that the worker bargaining process has its benefits. “The public has a strong interest in improving the home care program by reducing turnover, attracting more qualified providers, and ultimately enabling better home-based care to individuals with disabilities and the elderly,” the judge stated.

The legal campaign is centered on a 2013 state law that allows home health care workers to unionize. The home health care workers are also known as direct support professionals or DSPs, personal care attendants or PCAs or home health aides. Their union would be focused only on workers who are state-subsidized. The quest to form a union took years and was only decided after lengthy and at times emotional hearings and floor debate at the capitol. At the same time legislators also voted to allow child care workers to unionize.

After a high-profile organizing campaign over several months, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in August won an election to represent the 27,000 workers who are eligible to join the union. About 60 percent of the 5,800 workers who voted opted for unionization.

The National Right to Work Foundation is based in the state of Virginia. The foundation, which began in 1968, fights what it calls compulsory union organizing. The foundation could make its case to the Eighth District U.S. Court of Appeals but the foundation has not announced a decision yet. The foundation has publicly expressed concern about the number of employees who actually voted in support of unionization, as compared to the total number of potential union members.

The foundation contends that unionizing the workers violates the First Amendment rights of those who oppose unionization, and is a violation of the rights to free political expression and free association. It also tried unsuccessfully to block the August union election. At that time Davis ruled that the foundation’s actions were premature.

Davis’ latest ruling states that workers aren’t required to join the union or pay union dues. He disputed the notion that the union violates First Amendment rights or would cause harm. Davis also pointed out that state officials have a “rational basis” for wanting to negotiate with one entity representing the majority of workers.

The ruling also notes that the state law allowing the unionization effort was passed with full debate. Allowing the injunction would constitute a federal government and judicial intrusion into what is properly a state matter. He also said that the state has demonstrated a “rational basis” to negotiate with one entity
(SEIU) to represent the workers.

As part of the state’s case, Deputy Human Services Commissioner Charles E. Johnson provided a sworn statement contending that the 2013 law and certification of SEIU would improve the programs for all home health care workers.