Supreme Court

Supreme Court: You Can't Call Homecare Workers Public Employees and Force Unions on Them

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Pam Harris, plaintiff in the case, cares for her son, Joshua.
Courtesy of Illinois Policy Institute

Before ruling on the Hobby Lobby contraception case, which is probably all you're hearing about right now, the Supreme Court also released a decision on Harris v. Quinn, an important case on public union membership.

In a narrow, partisan, 5-4 ruling, the court determined that Illinois cannot simply declare that home health care workers are public employees on the basis of them receiving government health funding and then force them to pay for union representation. Though this is a blow for unions, the impact is much less than it could have been. The majority did not rule that public employees, as a whole, could not be forced to pay dues to unions to represent them, even if they didn't want to belong to the union. Rather, the court ruled that these previous precedents did not extend to home care workers, who are privately employed, regardless of any government subsidies.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the decision and was joined by justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. He takes several paragraphs pointing out that these home workers are hired and paid for by private citizens, not the state of Illinois, and that the petitioners in the case were providing care for family members. They sued, arguing that forcing them to pay union dues was a violation of their First Amendment rights. In discussing the case, the court had to analyze precedents from Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. This decision authorized public sector unions to draw fees from workers even if they didn't want to be members of the union, just as previous precedents had allowed so for the private sector. The justification is that doing so preserves labor peace (conflict resulting from multiple bargaining units for the same groups of employees) and avoiding "free riders" (employees getting the benefits from collective bargaining without contributing to the union).

But Alito describes all the many, many ways these home healthcare workers are not state employees. They are not given access to state employee benefits and are not protected or covered by laws that target state employees. Alito writes, "The Illinois Legislature has taken pains to specify that personal assistants are public employees for one purpose only: collective bargaining." Alito notes that because of this odd classification, a union can't actually represent these workers in cases where, for example, a home worker is fired for specious reasons. The ruling also noted that the "labor peace" argument didn't apply here, as these homecare workers were hired individually to work in homes and thus labor peace was not an issue or potential conflict.

In conclusion, the majority ruled not to extend the Abood decision in this situation: "If we accepted Illinois' argu­ment, we would approve an unprecedented violation of the bedrock principle that, except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support. The First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program who do not want to join or support the union."

While this is a limited decision, it does extend outside of Illinois. It is not the only state who has forced homecare workers to pay union fees. And while the court didn't address the larger issues of forcing unionization (and union dues) on public employees, the majority opinion in several places express concerns and suggests flaws with the Abood precedent. The justices weren't willing to push further on this case, but the way Alito talks about the Abood case could be seen as a signal that the conservative justices, at least, may be interested in looking deeper into union law.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissenting opinion, arguing that the state's unionization of healthcare employees falls well within the Abood precedent and claims that the workers have "joint employers" of their customer and the state. The more liberal justices do not appear to be wanting to rethink the Abood decision anytime soon.

Read the full ruling here (pdf). Some previous analysis of the case is here. More about the plaintiff here.

NEXT: Every Child in Scotland to Be Supervised by State-Appointed Busybody

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  1. Unionizing PCA’s was always a naked dues grab. The terms and conditions of the employment of PCA’s are set unilaterally by CMS. There was never any negotiation for the union to DO.

    For the sheer dishonesty and gall of trying to claim that they were somehow going to “represent PCA’s in collective bargaining” the unions deserved to lose bigger.

    1. I thought the record showed that they had in fact negotiated higher salaries since unionization?

      1. What salaries? I thought they were just getting benefits checks and somehow that was being construed that therefore they were employees of the state.

      2. If it did, it was a lie.

        First of all, PCA’s don’t earn salaries.

        They earn a unit rate from Medicaid, based on services provided as piecework in 15 minute increments.

        That unit rate is set in Washington by CMS.

        It may be that during the period when the union was collecting dues, that unit rate was changed. But it could not have been done by collective bargaining, because CMS doesn’t bargain. AT BEST the union may have been able to lobby CMS – but it’s already clearly established that you can’t force government employees to pay dues for lobbying.

      3. “I thought the record showed that they had in fact negotiated higher salaries since unionization?”

        There were no salaries. This was governmental payments to home healthcare workers for disabled home bound patients. The Union moved in and got the state Legislature to give them a cut of the government payments.

  2. The fact that this decision was only 5-4 shows how far gone things really are.

    1. Yes

      1. Yup. And remember that the next time someone says that it doesn’t really matter to libertarians whether the president is a (D) or an (R).

        1. Good thing Team Red appointee Roberts overturned Obamacare-oh wait no.

          1. Team Blue appointees are pretty reliable for Team Blue. Team Red appointees are much less reliable for Team Red.

            1. Personally I prefer that Supreme Court justices vote their consciences rather than the party line.

              1. Sure, it’s just that different parties tend to appoint judges with consciences that tend to align with the parties.

              2. My preference is that they vote on the constitutionality of a law. But I know I’m asking for a lot.

        2. Yes, vote team (R) for the slightly slower descent further into corpora-fascism.

          The lesser of two evils thing sailed about 2003 when the (R)’s, who controlled the White House and Congress, pushed through Medicare Part D and added $11,000,000,000,000 to the accrual basis debt.

          The (R)’s and (D)’s decisions are based on who gets greased and who gets gored, nothing more, and they’d both feed you feet first into woodchipper if it served their purposes. Your vote is meaningless.

          1. “Slightly slower descent” is still better.

  3. The supremes also decided that people need assistance in getting psych treatment:

    “State law banning conversion therapy for gay youths stands”
    […]
    …”a law that bars licensed therapists from trying to change the sexual orientation of patients under 18.”…
    http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/…..589712.php

    OK, what if someone under 18 hasn’t gotten comfortable with being gay yet, and the therapist tries to help? Is that covered?
    ‘Oh, we didn’t MEAN that!’, says the left.

    1. OK, what if someone under 18 hasn’t gotten comfortable with being gay yet, and the therapist tries to help? Is that covered?

      If the therapist is an unlicensed educator Kevin Jennings, he gets a spot in the Office of Safe and Drug-free Schools, right?

    2. The Supremes! Diana Ross is still kickin’ it, legal style! Watch out all those who spurned her!

      Sorry, I had to 🙂

      (Although, replacing some of the SC with The Supremes would be entertaining at the least. Besides, they may take the Tina Turner initiative – “this law goes through, the court moves to Switzerland.”)

  4. How long can the labor movement survive if courts place limits on their rent seeking?

  5. This same unionization tactic for home healthcare workers was tried in Michigan too. The next governor – Rick Snyder – killed it.
    http://dailycaller.com/2014/04…..ert-union/

    1. You stole my comment.

    2. The only way they can get new members now is to force them in, or trick them into joining, because no one is volunteering for that tired played out organized labor shit anymore.

      Look at what happened in all the states where membership of public unions was made optional? The “members” dropped out in droves.

  6. As with the birth control mandate case, it’s too bad it was so limited, but beats the alternative. On any other day this would have the lefties foaming at the mouth. This is going to be a fun week.

  7. Robert Reich is probably standing in his high chair with the rope around his neck, psyching himself up to jump.

    1. Stop it, you’re getting me excited.

  8. “no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support”

    Doesn’t the government violate this quite a lot? For example, it takes money from me and gives it to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It takes money from me and gives it to defense contractors to put out propaganda in war zones. Etc.

    1. Doesn’t the government violate this quite a lot?

      Duh?

      Precedent of people breaking the constitution does not justify further breaking of the constitution.

    2. Sorry, no individual taxpayer standing.

  9. Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissenting opinion, arguing that the state’s unionization of healthcare employees falls well within the Abood precedent and claims that the workers have “joint employers” of their customer and the state.

    I have to say that I’m a little surprised to see a lesbian be this willing to smoke state cock.

    1. Well, she is a liberal. And as well know, liberals are so stupid they’ll swallow anything.

      1. Assuming that she read or listened to all the adjoining testimony. She might have just heard “public unions? that’s cool, they should win.”

  10. They sued, arguing that forcing them to pay union dues was a violation of their First Amendment.

    This decision authorized for authorized public sector unions…

    Damn, Shackford. Were you in rush?

    But yes, this was a naked attempt at a power-grab by the SEIU and it is a good thing that the Supreme Court slapped their hand for it. That 5-4 is troubling, but not unexpected.

    1. Yes, I was in a rush! I’ll fix.

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