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In Home Care Decision, Supreme Court Rules Against State Labor Practices

June 30, 2014

The Supreme Court ruled on June 30 that home care workers employed in Medicaid-funded consumer-directed care programs in Illinois will not have to pay a “fair share” fee to the labor union representing the workers’ interests if they are not union members.

In the 5-4 opinion in the case Harris v. Quinn, the court ruled that the consumer-directed workers in Illinois are merely “partial public employees,” unlike “public school teachers or police officers who work directly for the government,” The New York Times reported.

The case was brought against the state of Illinois by Pamela Harris, a home care worker who provides care to her son with disabilities through the state’s consumer-directed care program.

Harris contended that her free speech rights under the First Amendment were violated by having to pay a fee to the union to which she was not a member.  

Media Coverage

More media coverage on the Harris v. Quinn decision:

Such fees, known as “fair share” fees, have been permissible because they cover the union’s collective bargaining and other administration costs that benefit all employees, the Associated Press explains.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Elana Kagan wrote:

The State could have asserted comprehensive control over all the caregivers’ activities. But because of the personalized nature of the services provided, Illinois instead chose (as other States have as well) to share authority with the customers themselves. The result is that each caregiver has joint employers — the State and the customer — with each controlling significant aspects of the assistant’s work.

But, Kagan concluded, this joint employer relationship should not impact the requirement for fair-share fees from non-union members.

In her opinion, Kagan cites PHI’s amicus brief (pdf) submitted in the case.

An “Unfortunate” Decision

PHI President Jodi Sturgeon called the Court’s decision “unfortunate,” adding that it will “hinder the state’s ability to ensure a sufficient and stable home care workforce for providing essential publicly funded long-term services and supports to people in their homes.”

Sturgeon continued:

Most home and community-based services are paid for by the state’s Medicaid program, so the state clearly has a compelling interest in developing and supporting the workforce that provides those services. States need to develop public policies that support good home care jobs and ensure quality care for consumers. Collective bargaining for the workforce has been important for addressing both these issues.

Illinois aides in the consumer-directed programs have seen their wages double as a result of collective bargaining. The quality of care is inextricably linked to quality of home care jobs — these better wages help ensure a stable workforce that can provide the consistent and continuous service elders and people with disabilities want and deserve.

— by Deane Beebe

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