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Supreme Court Decision Harms Home Care Workers and Consumers

September 17, 2014

The Supreme Court’s decision to constrain the power of home care worker unions in the case Harris v. Quinn will harm consumers as well as their caregivers, argues a commentary published in the American Prospect on September 8.

In June, the court ruled that home care workers employed in Medicaid-funded consumer-directed care programs are “partial public employees,” and therefore cannot be forced to pay “fair share” fees to the labor union representing the their interests if they are not union members.

That ruling “harmed those needing home care, as well as those providing it,” write Lisa Dodson, sociology professor at Boston College, and Nancy Folbre, emerita professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in the American Prospect article.

“In theory, the interest of workers can be at odds with that of consumers, because higher wages typically mean higher costs,” Dodson and Folbre write. “By this reasoning, cheaper care means more care and more benefits for consumers.”

However, they continue, home care does not work that way. “Care isn’t something you just pour into a measuring cup and sell by the ounce,” they write. “Its quality matters.”

The only way to ensure a workforce of high-quality, well-trained, and reliable workers is to pay them a fair wage with sufficient benefits — something that unions have worked to secure for home care workers in numerous states, Dodson and Folbre write.

But the court’s decision weakens those unions by allowing non-members to forgo paying “fair share” fees, even though they benefit from the union’s collective bargaining power, they argue.

— by Matthew Ozga

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