Mt. Vernon Register-News

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January 23, 2014

Labor case argued before U.S. Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — What will Justice Antonin Scalia do?

That was the question courtroom observers were asking Tuesday when a potentially pivotal labor case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue was whether Pam Harris and other home care workers like her should be forced to pay money to a union they don’t want to belong to.

Harris, of Lake County, is caring for her 25-year-old disabled son, Josh, and receiving assistance from the state of Illinois to do so.

Gov. Pat Quinn issued an executive order designating Harris and other home care workers as “state employees” for the purpose of joining a union.

Service Employees International Union, a political ally of the governor’s, then began trying to organize the workers.

“I think that there’s an unhealthy relationship between elected officials and public-sector unions,” Harris told Illinois News Network last week.

While the segment of workers Harris is a part of was affected by an executive order issued by Quinn, Rod Blagojevich issued similar orders while he was governor.

Justice Samuel Alito expressed skepticism of governors’ motivations to help unions.

“I thought the situation was that Gov. Blagojevich got a huge campaign contribution from the union, and virtually as soon as he got into office he took out his pen and signed an executive order that had the effect of putting, what was it, $3.6 million into the union coffers?”

But Illinois Attorney Lisa Madigan, whose office argued the case against Harris, said the state does have a compelling interest in promoting union representation of these workers.

“What the State of Illinois has had to do, as you heard during the argument, is find a mix of benefits so we’re able to attract and retain a high-quality workforce,” she said. “And quite frankly, before there was an exclusive representative engaged in collective bargaining, that was not the case in Illinois.”

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