Pa. Supreme Court Allows Stealth Unionization of Home Care Workers

In 2015, Dave Smith and Don Lambrecht were catapulted to the center-stage of Pennsylvania policy, a role neither man ever wanted by fighting a threat to their way of life.

Permanently confined to a wheelchair since he was 11 due to muscular dystrophy, Dave relies upon Don’s assistance to accomplish daily tasks. Their relationship originally started as a temporary arrangement—Dave fired a care-giver who attempted to take advantage of him and Don was out of work— 25 years later Don still cares for Dave.

Don offers 24-hour care while living in Dave’s home. Not surprisingly, these two men have become close friends. As Dave shares, “Don is really like part of my family as much as anything.”

Yet state officials are inserting themselves into this close relationship to provide political payback to union special interests.

In February 2015, Governor Wolf issued an executive order allowing SEIU and AFSCME to rapidly unionize home care workers paid through Medicaid or other state programs. These workers care for individuals with disabilities and the elderly; in fact, caregivers are often family members or friends.

Dave sets the terms of his own care and his caregiver’s employment. By allowing a union to easily become home care workers' exclusive representative, the executive order forces Dave and Don to abide by third-party-negotiated work rules and allows the state to take dues money directly from Don’s paycheck, before he even sees it.


Does it make sense that an outside group would involve themselves in a relationship that has taken place for 25 years just for the sake of collecting $400 of hard-earned money from someone who already does his job without their interference?

Within weeks of the executive order, the union was given the private information of 20,000 workers and held a stealth election, becoming home care workers’ exclusive representative despite receiving just 13 percent of eligible workers’ votes. Most workers did not vote. Indeed, many were likely unaware of the executive order.

This scheme diverts precious resources away from Pennsylvania’s deserving care givers to a union with powerful political affiliates.

But Dave and Don stood their ground, filing a lawsuit to stop the Governor’s executive overreach. In April 2015 a Commonwealth Court judge issued an injunction halting the order, and by September 2016, the court had completely invalidated it.

However, the Governor immediately appealed the decision, even attempting to circumvent the order by initiating a SEIU-created “orientation program” mandating home care workers meet with union representatives—a move that was struck down by the courts as a direct violation of the injunction.

The truth of the matter? This is a political issue. The executive order allows the governor to annually send $8 million of recipients' hard-earned money to a union backed by his campaign donors.

Unfortunately, this week the state Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision, supporting the Governor’s order and benefiting unions that donated over $130,000 to the judges’ most recent election and retention campaigns.

(Pa. Gov. Union 2015 Political Spending)

The union and governor now have the power to meet and negotiate the working conditions for thousands of workers, including those who never voted for union representation—including setting terms to deduct money from home care workers’ paychecks.

Don and Dave deserve autonomy and self-direction. Unfortunately, the executive order tramples their voices for the sake of bolstering union ranks. Thousands of similar workers in other states were not protected against this unionization scheme, with costly repercussions. It’s up to legislators to re-empower workers by passing legislation that protects home care workers from government coercion.