High Court rules IL private home care workers exempt from paying union dues

Windsor Genova – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Illinois’ in-home care workers paid by the state are not full-fledged public employees and should not be compelled to pay public union dues.

The Justices voted 5-4 for the ruling. In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “…personal assistants are almost entirely answerable to the customers and not to the State. Alito added that state law excludes personal assistants from statutory retirement and health insurance benefits.

The decision stemmed from the 2010 lawsuit of Pamela Harris and seven other homecare workers against Gov. Pat Quinn and the Chicago chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has more than 93,000 members who are healthcare providers in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas.

Harris cares 24 hours for her adult son afflicted with a rare genetic syndrome. She is designated a personal assistant, a new category that Quinn added in a 2003 executive order of his predecessor Rod Blagojevich. The order designated in-home care workers as “public employees,” allowing public unions to collectively bargain with the state over their benefits and wages and collect “fair share” fees.

In Harris’ lawsuit, with the National Right to Work Foundation (NRWF) representing her, she accused Quinn and SEIU of conspiring to relabel private care providers so the union could collect union fees from them.

The SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana has been representing home-based workers in Illinois for more than 10 years when bargaining for a new labor contract with the state. The union collects union fees from them for representing them amounting to more than $3.6 million per year, according to court documents.

In the lawsuit, Harris and NRWF argued that the compelled payment of union dues was a form of forced speech prohibited by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

A district court initially dismissed the case citing a Supreme Court ruling that union dues can be collected to support non-political activities. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago affirmed that ruling on grounds that the plaintiffs are state workers.

NRWF president Mark Mix said the ruling frees “thousands of home-care providers from unwanted union control.”

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, denounced the ruling saying the union is helping to combat income inequality and the rise of low-wage jobs.

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