This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court held that personal care assistants who are paid by the state of Illinois—but mostly supervised by the homecare recipients they serve—are not “full-fledged” public employees. As a result, these employees cannot be forced to pay union dues or fees.
In a 5-4 decision, the majority ruled that requiring personal care assistants to pay union dues would violate the First Amendment rights of nonmembers who disagree with the positions that unions take.
The Court noted that these assistants are “different from full-fledged public employees,” because they work primarily for their disabled client, and do not receive the same benefits as regular state employees.
This decision deals a considerable blow to organized labor. Unions are losing members—and, in turn, the dues and fees provided by said members—at an astonishing rate. Had the court ruled in their favor, public-sector unions would have had access to 26,000 new members—and their wallets. And given that nine other states, including Connecticut, allow personal care assistants to join unions, the impact will be felt far beyond Illinois.
In making its decision, the court refused to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a 1977 Supreme Court cases that requires “full-fledged” public employees to pay dues, even if they are not members of the union. Justice Alito, writing for the majority, noted that:
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...If we allowed Abood to be extended to those who are not full-fledged public employees, it would be hard to see just where to draw the line, and we therefore confine Abood's reach to full-fledged state employees.
However, labor unions will likely emphasize that the ruling stressed the unique nature of the personal care assistant:
PAs are much different from public employees. Unlike full-fledged public employees, PAs are almost entirely answerable to the customers and not to the State, do not enjoy most of the rights and benefits that inure to state employees, and are not indemnified by the State for claims against them arising from actions taken during the course of their employment. Even the scope of collective bargaining on their behalf is sharply limited.
Bottom Line for Employers:
Look for this decision to trigger a battle over the definition of “full-fledged public employees,” as well as a renewed organizing push from public sector unions.