Home-Care Workers or Union Troops?

The Supreme Court reconsiders a crucial labor precedent.

The Supreme Court will soon decide whether a state can force government employees to support a union. In January, the justices heard oral arguments in Harris v.Quinn, a case that could reverse a 37-year-old precedent that greatly empowered government-employee unions at the expense of citizens’ constitutional rights.

The Harris plaintiffs are not typical government employees. About 20,000 “personal assistants” in Illinois provide in-home care for disabled individuals eligible for benefits under a federally financed Medicaid program. Under the program, participants can get benefits while living at home instead of in an institution. Hired and fired not by the state but by the patients themselves—or “customers,” as the program describes them—the assistants are often family members. They get a check from the state-run Medicaid program but otherwise are “managed” by the customers for whom they care. This unique arrangement has spared them from having to join—and pay dues to—a government-employee union.

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