While millions of Americans are enjoying their summer vacations, one group of workers is stuck at home with the A/C cranked up. Home-care workers, who look after much of the country’s sick, disabled, elderly, and young rarely, if ever, get a vacation. In fact, for those of us looking after family members, our job never ends.

I take care of my developmentally disabled sister-in-law, Elizabeth, on a full-time basis in Everett, Washington. Though I get paid a small wage from Medicaid for my work, like most home healthcare workers, mine is a labor of love. I would be taking care of Elizabeth whether we were getting any assistance or not.


That said, I was surprised to see a little over a decade ago that my monthly paycheck was about $50 smaller than usual. That’s money that I could have used to pay the cable bill or get the special chocolates that Elizabeth loves.

Looking into it a little further, I discovered that the Service Employees International Union had succeeded in passing a measure in Washington State that classified home-care providers as state employees subject to automatic unionization and deduction of union dues from the Medicaid checks that individual providers like me receive.

More painful than this financial hit to my paycheck was the moral impact of being forced to contribute to the SEIU’s political and policy agenda that stands against almost everything in which I believe. According to the most recent filings with the Department of Labor, my SEIU Local spends about $2.6 million a year on political activities and lobbying, the overwhelming majority of which goes to candidates and causes to which I'm personally opposed.

Being considered a state employee was a dubious proposition at best, and I had the feeling that the SEIU was just using providers like me to further its own ends. My position was vindicated last summer by the Supreme Court which ruled that there is a clear distinction between home-care workers and “full-fledged public employees.”

The Court’s Harris vs. Quinn ruling freed thousands of home-care providers in the country from paying union dues if they didn’t want to. But millions of other employees in the 25 states without so-called “right-to-work” laws, allowing any employee the freedom to work without paying union dues, are not so lucky. They have no choice but to pony up on monthly basis to a union they may never support.

That too may be about to change. The Court is taking a case from a California teacher named Rebecca Friedrichs that challenges compulsory union dues for all professions on First Amendment, freedom of association grounds.

But even as disaffected union employees await the Court’s decision, they have options right now that can help alleviate the financial and moral impact of union dues. For instance, an earlier Supreme Court decision allows all unionized employees in the country the right to opt-out of paying the portion of their dues that pays for unions’ political spending. Employees can also opt-out of union membership altogether and only pay the portion of their dues that goes to fund representational activities.

A huge portion of Americans, however, are unaware of these workplace rights. A new Google Consumer Survey finds that nearly 40 percent of unionized household members do not know they can leave their union and avoid paying a portion of their dues without penalty. 

A grassroots coalition of around 100 organizations in 42 states is trying to change that with an educational campaign running this week called National Employee Freedom Week. This campaign also gives union members the information, timelines, and paperwork necessary to exercise their rights.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that home- and personal-care aides will be the occupations that lead the nation’s job growth over the coming decade. We may just be the occupation that is at the vanguard of workplace rights, too.  

Boardman is a home healthcare worker in Everett, Washington.