Supreme Court Rules In-Home Personal Care Providers Cannot be Compelled to Pay Union Agency Fees

In a 5-4 decision yesterday, the Supreme Court held in Harris v. Quinn that the First Amendment prohibits the collection of agency fees from in-home personal care providers who do not wish to join or support a union. While the ruling deals a blow to organized labor by prohibiting personal care providers from being required to pay union agency fees, public sector unions dodged an existential threat as the Court stopped short of ruling on all public sector agency fee requirements.

In Illinois and across the nation, personal care providers deliver at-home care for individuals who, for a variety of health reasons, would otherwise require institutional medical care.  The federal Medicaid program funds the state-run programs—in this case the Illinois’ Home Services Program—that compensate personal care providers.

In Illinois, SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana was designated the exclusive union representative for home-based, personal care providers in the Illinois’ Home Services Program and the union entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the state that contained an agency fee provision requiring all bargaining unit members who do not wish to join the union to pay the union a fee for the cost of certain representation activities.

The Court has previously ruled that individuals cannot be forced to pay for a union’s political activities. However, under a 1977 case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, state employees can be compelled to pay agency fees—their portion of the union’s bargaining costs. The question presented to the Court in Harris v. Quinn was whether the First Amendment permits a State to compel home healthcare providers to pay agency fees to a union that they do not wish to join or support.

Based on what the majority opinion cited as Abood’s “questionable foundations,” and because personal care providers are “quite different from full-fledged public employees,” the Court denied Illinois’ request to extend Abood to personal care providers.  In doing so, the Court gave in-home health care workers the ability to decide whether or not to join a union.

Although this recent ruling does not reverse Abood and applies narrowly to in-home care providers, the majority opinion’s sharp criticisms of Abood have led many to speculate about further challenges to the constitutionality of public sector agency fee requirements.  For now, however, public sector unions have avoided the broader threat of the elimination of their ability to forcibly collect agency fees from state employees that do not want to belong to a union.

For the full opinion, please see http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/11-681_j426.pdf

 

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