A Supreme Court decision handed down Monday may have implications for the collective bargaining system forged eight years ago between Massachusetts home care workers and the SEIU.
A Supreme Court decision handed down Monday may have implications for the collective bargaining system forged eight years ago between Massachusetts home care workers and the state.
Mike Segar/REUTERS

A Supreme Court decision handed down Monday may have implications for the collective bargaining system forged eight years ago between Massachusetts home care workers and the state.

The Court released its ruling on Harris v. Quinn Monday morning, asserting that public sector unions can no longer require home health care workers across Illinois to pay unions “fair share fees.”

Those workers are paid through Medicaid and were officially named public employees in 2003.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Since a 1977 case called Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court has upheld laws that force government employees—even if those employees actively disagree with union stances—to pay dues to unions for collective bargaining purposes.

The Court chipped away at that precedent Monday, ruling that Illinois home care workers are only partial state employees—not “fully-fledged public employees”—and should therefore no longer be required to pay union dues.

Although the decision applies to only a small subset of Illinois workers, it may have consequences for Massachusetts home care workers down the line.

Illinois is one of at least eight states that lets its home care workers join public sector unions. Massachusetts is another. Both states have laws that require public home care workers to pay union fees, regardless of whether they belong to the union.

In Massachusetts, those fees are 2 percent of every public home care worker’s paycheck. That percentage can amount to up to $40 every month for a full time employee.

SEIU, which has organized most of the home care workers nationwide, has long held the benefits that stem from collective bargaining agreements are worth the fees.

In a press release Monday, SEIU touted its achievements in Massachusetts. Since home care providers were unionized in 2006, the SEIU has managed to up the minimum wage to $13.38 per hour, acquire paid time off, and establish a training fund for home care workers.

However, should someone bring a lawsuit challenging the Massachusetts law, it may be harder to justify the current system, given the precedent set by Harris v. Quinn.

In a statement Monday, SEIU asserted that it would keep up the fight to ensure that home care workers continue to advocate for quality home care in Massachusetts, regardless of the Harris decision.

“No court case is going to stand in the way of home care workers coming together to have a strong voice for good jobs and quality home care,” said Personal Care Attendant Kilra Hylton in the statement.

Monday’s decision, while a setback for unions hoping to maintain revenue streams from nonmembers, was not as drastic as many unions feared.

The plaintiffs, backed by a group called the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund bent on demolishing union power, had hoped that the Court would overrule Abood completely, sapping union coffers and dealing a fatal blow to union membership.

Although the majority noted that the judicial basis for Abood was shaky, it refrained from overruling the precedent all together. Public sector unions can therefore still mandate full time state employees to pay fees.

By refusing to overrule Abood, the Court managed to uphold the basis of union power and only prune its revenue streams. But some of that pruning could potentially occur in Massachusetts as a result.