Supreme Court ruling on home healthcare workers a setback for unions
The Supreme Court dealt a limited setback to organized labor Monday, ruling that personal home-care employees in Illinois cannot be forced to pay union dues. But to the relief of the nation’s largest unions, the justices refrained from extending the ruling to all public-sector workers, at least for now.In a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the court said the home healthcare assistants, some of whom care for their own loved ones, had a constitutional right not to support a union they opposed.
The decision will make it more difficult in some states for unions to continue organizing home healthcare assistants, a rapidly growing segment of the workforce that is expected to double in the next decade thanks to the aging U.S. population. It could also apply to child care workers.
More ominously for unions, the decision practically invites the National Right to Work Foundation, which brought the case, to bring additional legal challenges that could apply the same legal reasoning to millions of other public workers.
“This is what the labor movement fears the worst,” said Gary Chaison, a professor and labor historian at Clark University in Massachusetts. “They’re worried about dying the death of 1,000 cuts. They’re losing the potency of their weapons.”
Beginning in 2003, Illinois officials agreed to designate home-care workers as “public employees” because they care for the disabled and are paid with government Medicaid funds. That cleared the way for the Service Employees International Union to organize them.