The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case that could have massive implications for both public unionization and the future of health care. Pamela Harris is an Illinois mother who receives a small Medicaid stipend for helping to care for her 25-year-old son, who suffers from a muscular degenerative disease and mental illness. Under a law passed under Governor Rod Blagojevich, parents who receive any stipend for caring for their children are considered state employees and are thus required to pay dues to SEIU, even if they don’t join the organization.Harris has taken her opposition to the dues all the way to the Supreme Court, where her lawyer is asking the Court to overturn its 1977 decision authorizing unions to collect dues from teachers who weren’t union members. The Times has more:
Justice Elena Kagan said that was quite a request.“It is a radical argument,” she said of Mr. Messenger’s position. “It would radically restructure the way workplaces across this country are run.” […]Other justices seemed receptive to Mr. Messenger’s argument, saying that the First Amendment limits what government workers may be forced to do to support bargaining positions they differ with.“Your position,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy told Paul M. Smith, the lawyer for the health care workers’ union, “is that the public employees must surrender a substantial amount of First Amendment rights to work for the government.”
Home health care work should be an increasingly important part of the health care system. It both saves the system money and lets people receive care with dignity in the comfort of their own homes. We’ve talked before about the need for more generous reimbursements for home care, or for paying a wage to those who care for elderly or otherwise dependent family members. This Supreme Court case could have a big effect on the future of these kinds of initiatives.Over the past ten years, unionization of home health workers has been increasing dramatically, but a decision in favor of Pam Harris would weaken the unions’ burgeoning power, as well as have ramifications in all other areas of public sector employment. The case also raises fundamental questions about the intersection of the workplace and the home; Harris has said, “I object to my home being a union workplace.” As more and more jobs switch over to the service sector, the relation between homes and unionization will become a more and more heated issue. We’ll be watching closely.