The U.S. Supreme Court sided with an Illinois mother in a ruling Monday that will severely limit public sector unions’ ability to force home health and personal care workers to pay union dues.
In Harris v. Quinn, the court voted 5-4 in favor of Pam Harris, a suburban Chicago mother, who sued Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn for a 2009 executive decision he issued forcing personal care assistants to pay dues to public unions.
The Harris family receives around $25,000 per year from Medicaid to help care for their adult son, Josh, who suffers from Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome. Home care is an alternatives to placing him in a state institution.
Harris claimed that being forced to give dues to a public union violated her First Amendment rights.
In its decision, the court drew a line between workers like Harris and other public sector employees.
“In the case of full-fledged public employees, the State establishes all of the duties imposed on each employee, as well as all of the qualifications needed for each position,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the majority opinion.
He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonya Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer dissented.
“So if a personal assistant steals from a customer, neglects a customer, or abuses a customer, the state washes its hands,” reads the opinion.
Because of Quinn’s 2009 decision, unions like the Service Employees International Union were allowed to collect dues from the Medicaid payments going to the Harris family.
SEIU has unionized 20,000 such individuals, and collects an estimated $10 million in dues annually.
Monday’s decision will severely hamper their ability to draw money from such workers, the number of which are growing considerably and were seen by unions as a major source of new funds.
While the decision was unfavorable to public unions, it did not go as far as some of their opponents had hoped. An ultimate win for public union opponents would have been a reversal of the 1977 ruling Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.
While he abstained from deciding on the precedent, Alito did call it “questionable,” leaving open the possibility that it could be revisited.
Nevertheless, Harris’s supporters praised the decision.
“The court looked at the situation and saw that Pamela Harris clearly was not a paid government employee,” Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the free-market Illinois Policy Institute, told The Daily Caller.
“She does not have to worry about them interfering with her family. She doesn’t have to worry about the aid she gets from the state being redirected to unions,” said Kersey.
The Illinois Policy Institute filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Illinois mother.
“There are 20,000 people in Illinois who have been forced to pay dues to a union that they may not support, and they can look forward to being free of having any of their benefits directed to the SEIU,” said Kersey.
Kersey said that had Quinn’s executive decision been allowed to stand, it would have opened the door to unionizing anyone who does business with the government, including doctors who provide care to Medicaid and Medicare patients and small grocers who sell goods to customers on food stamps.