National Consumers League

In Harris v. Quinn, another slap in the face to workers


Last week the Supreme Court‘s 5-4 decision in the Harris v. Quinn case was a slap in the face to working families and especially female employees across the country. In the home healthcare industry, where a vast majority of workers are minority women, the Harris v. Quinn decision eliminated agency fee arrangements for Illinois home healthcare workers. 

The ruling casts doubt and creates insecurity and instability for employers and unions throughout the public sector. The decision creates a special class for Medicaid and state funded home healthcare workers as neither private nor public but ‘partial public employees.' 

Many of the basic workplace standards and protections that we take for granted as Americans are thanks to the efforts of collective bargaining and organized labor. At issue in this case was whether non-union members could reap the wages, benefits and protections negotiated in a collectively bargained contract without the needing to pay their fair share.

As ‘partial public employees’, the Court rules that the same labor rules do not apply and that workers can opt out of joining a union and not be required to contribute dues to the labor group that negotiates their employment contract – essentially allowing some workers to get free use of an employment consultant/lawyer while everyone else pays. 

At a time when wages are either eroding or remaining stagnant, and income inequality is out of control, joining together to collectively bargain is one of the only proven ways home care workers have to improve their lives and the lives of the people they care for. And with our aging population, the home healthcare industry is one of the fastest growing in the US, yet the workers have very little employment protections.

In the meantime, the Obama Administration must stick to its promise to the 2.5 million home care workers waiting for basic fair pay protections implementing the long-awaited federal companionship worker regulations by January 1, 2015. These new rules will finally extend basic federal minimum wage and overtime protections to the millions of workers who care for seniors and people with disabilities living independently in their homes.