Corporate-backed groups that seek to weaken unions through legal challenges and public policy have set their sights on home-care workers — one of the fastest-growing professions in the country, but also one of the lowest-paid among such jobs.

Most recently, the Trump administration issued a Department of Health and Human Services rule that bans union dues deduction from home-care workers’ Medicaid-funded paychecks.

That’s already the law in Michigan, where it’s had staggering ramifications for the union representing home-care workers in the seven years since the law went into effect: SEIU Healthcare Michigan has seen an 84 percent drop in membership and a 74 percent drop in revenue, as reported by the Intercept and Documented.

It’s a strategy pushed by the State Policy Network, a network of state think tanks that says it pursues "a vision of an America where personal freedom, innovation, opportunity ... help all Americans flourish.” It’s also known for funding and coordinating attacks on organized labor. The State Policy Network told its donors in a 2018 call that the network “is the only group that’s driving this effort at a national level.”

The focus on home-care workers might not come as a surprise for those watching labor issues in Pennsylvania: A group called the Fairness Center, which describes itself as “a public interest law firm that provides free legal services to those hurt by public-sector union officials,” already mounted a challenge to home-care worker unionization — and eventually lost in the state Supreme Court.

The conflict started in 2015, when Gov. Tom Wolf announced an executive order creating an advisory board on home-care workers that would include a representative for these workers. The order also said the state would share a list of these workers with an “employee organization” that represents these workers. Wolf said it was an effort to improve working conditions for the roughly 20,000 home-care workers in Pennsylvania, who are largely women of color and who sometimes are caring for relatives. The 2018 median annual pay for a home-care worker was $24,200.

The Fairness Center sued the Wolf administration on behalf of a Chester County man receiving homecare, saying that Wolf was forcing union representation on these workers. A similar case was brought by the Pennsylvania Homecare Association and United Cerebral Palsy of Pennsylvania.

In 2016, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled in favor of the Fairness Center, saying the order “invades the relationship between a [direct-care worker] and the employer participant who receives personal services in his or her home." But in 2018, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision, saying Wolf “did not exceed his constitutional powers” with the executive order.

It was a clear win for the United Homecare Workers of Pennsylvania, a project of SEIU Healthcare PA and AFSCME that is organizing home-care workers. (Home-care workers cannot unionize in Pennsylvania because state law bars “domestic" workers from getting collective bargaining rights.)

Eric Rosso, who works for the watchdog organization PA Spotlight, called it a “big loss” for the anti-union groups.

“The Keystone State has become a testing ground of sorts for anti-worker billionaires to experiment in our court system through a collection of front groups,” Rosso wrote last year.

Philadelphia Media Network is one of 21 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.