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Examiner Editorial: Were home health care workers hoodwinked into Service Employees union?

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich talks with reporters at the Federal Court building after the judge handed the case to the jury in his corruption trial in Chicago, in June 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

Just over a week ago, the Supreme Court heard the case of Harris v. Quinn, in which a group of Illinois home health care workers objected to that state’s decision to make them eligible for unionization. A question related to the case that isn’t getting the attention it deserves is what prompted the state to do this in the first place. Was this in genuine reaction to the workers’ interests? Or were there other, possibly corrupt, reasons involved? New evidence suggests the latter.

Illinois home caregivers for the physically disabled, who receive funding under a state-run Medicaid program, were first organized in 2003 as part of the Service Employees International Union. This was made possible by an executive order by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat.

On Monday, the Washington Examiner reported that Illinois officials were unable to provide any concrete proof that they authenticated the 2003 union election that gave the SEIU its exclusive representation contract. Which is to say it not clear that a majority of the workers ever wanted to be in a union in the first place.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Illinois Policy Institute and follow-up inquiries by the Examiner, the state could only point to a March 2003 letter from the SEIU claiming it had won. Illinois offered nothing else – no documents, no affidavits, no records of any kind — that showed whether anybody had bothered to verify the vote totals. The evidence that the SEIU provided to the state? “[E]xempt from disclosure under Illinois law.” The state officials who would have checked? "[N]o longer with the agency."

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. The vote was very close. The SEIU only claimed to have had 52 percent support. This was a “card check” election, too, meaning that the SEIU was awarded recognition based on the fact that it turned in cards supposedly signed by the workers. Did the caregivers know what they were signing? Are the signatures on the cards those of the caregivers?

Blagojevich was notoriously crooked. He’s currently serving a 14-year sentence in federal prison on 17 counts of corruption related to his duties as governor. The SEIU was closely tied to him, having endorsed him and supported him throughout his career. Blagojevich returned the favor to the point that other unions cried foul over his favoritism. The SEIU even figured prominently in the corruption charges against him. A top union official reportedly acted as a go-between for Blagojevich and a person interested in “buying” President Obama’s former Senate seat.

Serious money was involved, too. About 20,000 home caregivers were unionized. Documents provided in response to IPI’s FOIA request revealed that the SEIU has been getting about $10 million in dues annually from them. One doesn't have to be paranoid to think that something stinks here. It is time for people in Illinois and the rest of the country to start asking questions and demanding credible answers.