The Supreme Court has ruled that disability caregivers cannot be compelled to pay union dues. In a 5–4 decision in Harris v. Quinn, the court said that public sector unions cannot forcibly collect union dues from disability caregivers, many of whom care for a family member in their homes. The ruling came about in an Illinois case concerning caregiver Pamela Harris, whose son suffers from Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome and requires her full-time care.
Harris v. Quinn
Harris is one of 26,000 Illinois home-based caregivers who receive state-administered Medicaid funds. In 2003, Illinois ruled that these workers were legally state workers. According an Associated Press Big Story report, pursuant to this ruling, a majority of caregiver workers opted for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for such benefits as healthcare, wage increases, and training. Those who opted against joining the union were required to pay fees that covered the costs of, among other things, collective bargaining. These dues were deducted from their monthly Medicaid checks.
Harris and seven other disability caregivers (all mothers as well) proceeded to sue Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois, requesting the cease of automatic dues deductions from the paycheck of any worker who refuses representation by the union. The women argued that being required to pay union dues against their wills violated their First Amendment rights.
Caregivers Differ From State Employees
Lawyers for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation took up the caregivers’ cause, arguing in both written and oral briefs that because the state did not hire or supervise the eight workers, and because neither it nor any of its jurisdictions could fire them, they were not full-fledged public employees. As a consequence, they should not have to abide by the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education court decision or any other Supreme Court precedent upholding the constitutionality of union dues required of public sector employees. On the side of the defense, officials for SEIU countered that they had won higher wages and benefits for 20,000 home care assistants in Illinois.
The Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs, saying the First Amendment prevents Illinois from forcing home caregivers to pay union dues to an organization whose positions they do not support. In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito distinguished home care workers from full-fledged public employees, noting that they work primarily for their disabled or senior family members and do not enjoy most of the rights and benefits of state employees.
What This Means for Caregivers
This ruling represents a victory for home caregivers nationwide, as the Harris v. Quinn ruling also now frees home caregivers in other states from having to pay union dues. If you’re a home caregiver, exemption from union dues means there may be more Medicaid funds available to help support your loved one. Unlike caregivers who work in private facilities for a living, your primary focus as a home caregiver is often on getting as much money as you can to assist you in providing the best possible care for your loved one. Under this new ruling, you may be further empowered to do just that.