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Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Harris v. Quinn Case

January 23, 2014

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on January 21 in Harris v. Quinn, a case that challenges the right of states to offer collective bargaining to their publicly funded workforces, including personal care aides who serve Medicaid beneficiaries in consumer-directed programs.

Pam Harris and seven other personal care aides employed in Illinois’ Medicaid-funded consumer-directed care program contend that workers in this program are not state employees but rather employees of the consumers for whom they provide long-term services and support. Therefore, they claim, union representation is not appropriate to their situation.

The petitioners also maintain that, if they choose not to join the union representing them, having to pay a “fair share” fee is a violation of their rights. Under current labor law, non-union members are required to pay this fee for contract negotiations and implementation from which the workforce benefits; it cannot be used for political activities.

Though the plaintiffs are hired by their clients in consumer-directed programs, the state retains many employer responsibilities, including determining wages and duties, training requirements, and job qualifications. The state also issues the workers’ pay checks. For this reason, the state argues that it should be given the freedom to decide how to manage the workforce.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in an interview that it is in the state’s interest to recognize the union that represents state-funded home care workers.

“The home services program has about 28,000 home care aides, and these people are working in homes all over the state. There isn’t a centralized workplace, and the goal for the state is creating and retaining a professional group of home care aides to meet the needs of what is an ever increasing population of older people with disabilities,” Madigan said.

PHI President Jodi Sturgeon concurs. “The state has an overriding interest in developing a sufficiently large, skilled, and stable workforce to meet the needs of beneficiaries enrolled in the state’s Medicaid-funded home and community-based services programs,” she said. “State policymakers need flexibility to creatively address this challenge.”

PHI submitted an amicus brief (pdf) in support of the state of Illinois’ right to determine how it provides state-funded long-term services and supports and sets employment conditions for this essential public workforce.

The PHI brief is a Brandeis brief which provides important background information for the Court’s consideration, conveying sound empirical evidence and social science information about the labor market for home care workers.

For more information, visit the SCOTUSblog, where the proceedings and orders in the case are posted.

A transcript (pdf) of the oral arguments is available on the Supreme Court’s website.

— by Deane Beebe

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