On October 1, 2013, the United States Supreme Court agreed to a review a decision that found home health care workers to be employees of the State of Illinois and that the State’s collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) with those workers could therefore require non-union employees to pay a “fair share” fee to cover certain collective bargaining and union activity costs.
In Harris v. Quinn, two groups of non-union health care workers sought relief from a provision of the CBA negotiated between the State and a health care worker union requiring “all Personal Assistants who are not members of the Union . . . to pay their proportionate share of the costs of the collective bargaining process, contract administration and pursuing matters affecting wages, hours and other conditions of employment.” The plaintiffs argued that, since they were not union members, the fair share agreement violated the First Amendment by compelling their association with, and speech through, the union.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims, relying on the long-standing Supreme Court determination that employees may be compelled to support legitimate, non-ideological union activities related to collective-bargaining representation. The plaintiffs’ principal argument against this position was that they were employees of their patients, not the State. The Seventh Circuit disagreed, noting that the plaintiffs may be employees of both the State and their patients. The Seventh Circuit further found that the State had significant control over the plaintiffs because it set qualification standards, evaluated patients’ choice of hiring, could refuse payment for sub-standard services, approved a mandatory service plan governing the terms and conditions of employment, and controlled all of the economic aspects of employment.
Finding that the fair share agreement in the Harris case could survive a First Amendment challenge, the Seventh Circuit emphasized the narrow reach of its decision, stating, “We hold simply that the State may compel the personal assistants, as employees – not contractors, health care providers, or citizens – to financially support a single representative’s exclusive collective bargaining representation.”
The Seventh Circuit also upheld the dismissal of a group of plaintiffs that were not presently subject to a collective bargaining agreement on the grounds that their claims were not yet ripe for review.
Over the objections of the State, the union, and the Solicitor General, the Supreme Court granted the plaintiffs’ petition for review.