[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 Monday in Harris v. Quinn [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that the state cannot require home health care workers to pay union fees. The court stopped short of overruling its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education [opinion], which held that state employees who choose not to join a public-sector union may nevertheless be compelled to pay an agency fee to support union work that is related to the collective-bargaining process. However, the court did refuse to extend Abood to this situation, finding that the home health care workers fall into a narrow class of "partial public employees." In an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, the court concluded: "The First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program who do not want to join or support the union." Justice Elena Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
The court heard arguments in the case in January after granting certiorari [JURIST reports] in October. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled [opinion] in 2011 that "a collective bargaining agreement that requires Medicaid home-care personal assistants to pay a fee to a union representative [does not] violate the First Amendment." The court also ruled, "we lack jurisdiction to consider the claims of plaintiffs who have opted not to be in the union. Because they are not presently subject to mandatory fair share fees, their claims are not ripe."