“ … I don’t want anyone to get between me and caring for my son,” Harris said
Monday, shortly after learning the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to government
unions that sought to organize home-care workers and others not directly
employed by government.
The high court ruled 5-4 that groups, such as home-care workers, cannot be
compelled to pay representation fees or dues to labor unions.
Harris, a Lake County mother, is caring for her adult disabled son, Josh, and
receiving assistance from the state of Illinois to do so.
Hear more from Pam Harris as she speaks with Watchdog Radio’s Benjamin Yount.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issued an executive order designating Harris and other
home-care workers as “state employees” for the purpose of joining a union.
|HE LOST: Gov. Pat Quinn was defendant in the case Harris v.
Quinn, which challenged a state rule forcing home-care workers to
pay labor union dues.
Service Employees International Union, a political ally of the governor, then
began trying to organize the workers.
“I think there is a very unhealthy relationship between politicians and the
unions,” Harris said. “I only wish Governor Quinn had listened to us five years
ago when we said we didn’t want to join the union.”
Harris and other workers argue they are not government employees capable of
being unionized in the traditional sense. They contend they are different
because they work in people’s homes, not on government property, and are not
supervised by other state employees.
While the sector of workers Harris is a part of was affected by an executive
order issued by Quinn, Rod Blagojevich issued similar orders while he was
During oral arguments earlier this year, Justice Samuel Alito expressed
skepticism of governors’ motivations to help unions.
“I thought the situation was that Gov. Blagojevich got a huge campaign
contribution from the union,” Alito said. “And virtually as soon as he got into
office he took out his pen and signed an executive order that had the effect of
putting, what was it, $3.6 million into the union coffers?”
It was Alito who ended up writing the majority opinion for the High Court.
Alito noted that the state does not treat these home-care workers as employees
in any sense but to join a union. For example, the state has no legal liability
if home-care workers harm those in their care.
“Just as the State denies personal assistants most of the rights and benefits
enjoyed by full-fledged state workers, the State does not assume responsibility
for actions taken by personal assistants during the course of their employment,”
Alito said in his opinion. “… So if a personal assistant steals from a customer,
neglects a customer, or abuses a customer, the State washes its hands.”
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Patrick Wright, vice president for
legal affairs at the Mackinaw Center for Public Policy, said the
decision is one of the most significant labor-law decisions in
“What the unions were trying to do is radically redefine what
constitutes a public employee,” he said. “This is an enormous
setback for them and will cost them millions of dollars.”
The decision also lays the groundwork
for a possible future decision in which the high court may rule that
the state cannot compel any public employee to pay money to a union,
But Illinois Attorney Lisa Madigan, whose office argued the case
against Harris, said the state does have a compelling interest in
promoting union representation of these workers.
Additionally, State Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, called the ruling
“I’m disappointed in the ruling,” he said. “It takes rights away
from thousands of workers who rely on very little benefits and very
little representation, and the unions’ ability to protect these
workers was taken away from them. It’s upsetting.”
State Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said Monday’s decision
sent an important message that caregivers should have the authority
to determine the care of their loved ones.
“I applaud the United States Supreme Court’s decision today by
siding with Illinoisans Pam and Josh Harris by ruling that a home is
not a union shop and that the sensitive decisions regarding the care
for a disabled loved one needs to remain with the caregiver and in
the home,” he said in a statement to the media. “Pam Harris speaks
for the thousands of parents and family members who serve as
caregivers. No one other than Pam Harris knows what’s best for Josh
and the United States Supreme Court agrees.”
SEIU disagreed with the ruling, and said it reduces the power of
workers to earn more money and receive more benefits.
“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 SEIU President Mary Kay Henry in a media release.
“At a time when wages remain stagnant and income inequality is out
of control, joining together in a union is the only proven way home
care workers have of improving their lives and the lives of the
people they care for.”
The SEIU statement lamented the loss of the ability to train home
workers through collected dues, and said home-care workers are now
worse off because of the court’s decision.
“States need to build a stable, qualified workforce to meet the
growing need for home care — and having a strong union for home care
workers is the only approach that has proven effective,” the
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