Today, the Supreme Court ruled that forcing Personal Assistants (PAs) in Illinois to pay a fee to a union violates the First Amendment.
The PAs at issue help individuals who are “unable to live in their own homes without assistance and unable to afford the expense of in-home care.” Medicaid funds state-run programs to help pay for PAs to help these individuals. In Illinois, individuals then act as the employer for the PA under state law. The individual is tasked with hiring, training, directing and evaluating the work of, and disciplining the PA. Despite the fact that the state has practically no input into the PAs’ wages or working conditions, in 2003 Illinois’ governor issued an executive order permitting them to unionize. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was subsequently elected as the PAs’ collective bargaining representative. The SEIU and the State of Illinois negotiated an article in the collective bargaining agreement that required PAs who are not union members to contribute a ‘fair share’ of union dues to the SEIU. These payments amounted to approximately $3.6 million per year. Three PAs sued, stating that forcing them to contribute to the union violated their rights under the First Amendment.
The Court first examined whether existing legal precedent regarding public employees should be followed. They observed that the PAs’ pay was determined not by bargaining but instead by statute, that the union had no power to negotiate hours worked, termination of employment, job duties, benefits, or other mandatory subjects of bargaining, and that the union could not bring a grievance against the individual for a violation of the collective bargaining agreement. As such, the Court decided to examine the case under First Amendment principles alone. “The agency fee provision here must serve a ‘compelling state interest … that cannot be achieved through means significantly less restrictive of associational freedoms.’” The State and the SEIU argued that the fees promoted labor peace as well as the general welfare of the PAs. The Court found these arguments to be lacking, and ruled that they were not enough to overcome the high standard for infringements under the First Amendment.
Given the above, the Court ruled that the mandatory union payments violated the First Amendment, stating that “except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.” However, the decision is limited to the issue of fair-share fees for home health care workers and not to public employees generally.