In a significant blow to efforts to unionize health care workers who are privately employed by the aged, ill and/or frail in their homes, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down an Illinois statute requiring these home-based personal care providers to financially support a union that has a collective bargaining agreement with the State on their behalf even where the care providers do not wish to join or support the union. The Court found the state statute’s requirement violated the personal care providers’ rights under the First Amendment. Harris v. Quinn, No. 12-861 (June 30, 2014). (For additional details about the case, see our previous blog post, “Supreme Court’s Decision on Compulsory Union Fees May Have Extensive Effect.”)

Assuming a similar statutory framework, the Supreme Court’s decision likely will have a significant financial impact on unions in Illinois and several other states, including California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, that require home health care workers (who are employed by the individual and not the State) to financially support the labor union that represents them. However, the Court spared public sector unions a much greater setback by leaving intact its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. The Court did so by crafting a distinction between “full-fledged” public employees (those public employees who are actual employees of the State and over whom the State has most of the control) which existed in Abood and the “quasi-public employees” (those who are employees of the individual and not the State) in question in Harris. 

According to the Court, Abood is applicable only to full-fledged public employees, and therefore, unions may continue to require full-fledged public employee nonmembers to pay an agency fee.  Justice Samuel Alito, writing on behalf of the 5-4 majority, found that personal care providers “are quite different from full-fledged public employees….” “Abood itself has clear boundaries; it applies to public employees. Extending those boundaries to encompass partial-public employees, quasi-public employees, or simply private employees would invite problems,” Justice Alito wrote. Justice Elena Kagan authored an extensive dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor.