Supreme Court Weighs Union Fees Case with Home Care Worker Implications

Home care workers in certain states and Illinois in particular could be impacted by an upcoming Supreme Court ruling on Harris vs. Quinn on whether public sector employees who don’t join or support union activities should still be required to pay union fees. 

The Supreme Court is currently debating the case, which stems from a 1977 ruling that public employees must pay the mandatory union fees, called “fair-share” dues, reports the Los  Angeles Times. The Court is split along party lines, with most of the conservative justices questioning whether unwilling workers should be forced to pay union fees. 

Implications for the home care sector stem from an Illinois case where right-to-work attorneys challenged the classification of in-home care providers as public employees. 

“National Right to Work sued Illinois after decisions in 2003 and 2009 to classify 20,000 in-home care workers as state employees,” says the article. “The workers, who assist adults with disabilities, are often family members of the disabled or are self-employed, but they are paid by the state with Medicaid funds. After being declared state employees, the workers voted to join the Service Employees International Union, which succeeded in winning higher wages and better benefits.”

Attorneys for the right-to-work case pointed to the new arrangement as a “questionable deal” between state Democrats in Illinois and union officials, particularly in light of the $3.6 million in dues paid into the SEIU after the home care workers were organized. 

“The program benefits the state as well as the disabled adults because it prevents them from being sent to more costly institutions, he said,” says the article, quoting U.S. Solicitor GEn. Donald Verrilli Jr., who defended the Illinois Legislature in the case. 

The Supreme Court justices will soon vote on Harris vs. Quinn. If conservative justice Antonin Scalia joins the four liberal-leaning justices, then the court will affirm the federal judges in Chicago and uphold the home care program in Illinois. 

“If the conservative bloc has a majority, they could rule narrowly to say these private in-home workers were not state employees, or they could rule broadly that it is unconstitutional to collect union fees from public employees or authorize a union to be the exclusive bargaining agent for public employees,” reports the Los Angeles Times. 

In Democratic-leaning states located primarily in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and on the West Coast, a conservative ruling could have a “significant” impact, the article concludes, as many authorize unions and mandatory fees as opposed to “right to work” laws allowing employees to opt out of unions, found in many Republican-leaning states. 

“There is a clear need to find innovative, creative strategies to build, strengthen, and stabilize the state’s workforce that provides Medicaid-funded home and community-based services to elders and people living with disabilities,” says PHI (Paraprofessional Health Institute), an advocacy group for direct care workers that filed an amicus brief in support of the state of Illinois’ right to determine how it provides state-funded long-term care services. “According to the National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities, 84 percent of states report serious concerns about the lack of sufficient direct-care workers to meet beneficiaries demand.”

Read the full article at the Los Angeles Times.

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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