CHICAGO (CN) – In-home “personal assistants” who provide Medicaid-subsidized rehabilitation services must pay union costs even if they opt out of joining, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Because the assistants are Illinois state employees of the, the court ruled that they can be compelled to support “legitimate, non-ideological, union activities germane to collective-bargaining representation.”
They had claimed in a class action that requiring all assistants to pay “fair share” fees violates the First Amendment by compelling their association with, and speech through, the union.
In 2003, a majority of the approximately 20,000 personal assistants who work for the Division of Rehabilitation Services voted to designate SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana as their representative. Six years later, a majority of the 4,500 personal assistants working for the Division of Developmental Disabilities rejected such representation.
Members of both groups are plaintiffs in the suit, even though disabilities assistants do not currently pay for any representation.
In an effort to dodge Supreme Court precedent that allows unions to collect fees from nonmembers, the rehabilitation plaintiffs argued that they were employees of their patients, not the state.
On Thursday, the 7th Circuit affirmed dismissal of that maneuver for failure to state a claim.
Because Illinois establishes assistants’ job duties, sets and pays their salaries and work hours, and pays for training, it is, at least, a joint employer for the purposes of collective bargaining.
“Thus, because of the significant control the state exercises over all aspects of the personal assistants’ jobs, we conclude that personal assistants are employees of the state and reject the plaintiffs’ arguments that the state’s interests in collective bargaining do not apply to the unique circumstances of personal assistants,” Judge Daniel Manion wrote for the court.
Because the state has a compelling interest in labor peace, union monopoly over employees is desirable, the court ruled.
Manion stressed the narrowness of the ruling: “We do not consider whether [Supreme Court precedent] would still control if the personal assistants were properly labeled independent contractors rather than employees. And we certainly do not consider whether and how a state might force union representation for other health care providers who are not state employees, as the plaintiffs fear.”
The disabilities assistants had also appealed dismissal of their case but came up empty-handed as well.
“The plaintiffs’ claims are contingent on events that may never occur and thus are not ripe,” Manion wrote, affirming dismissal for lack of jurisdiciton.
“The courts cannot judge a hypothetical future violation in this case any more than they can judge the validity of a not-yet-enacted law, no matter how likely its passage,” he added. “To do so would be to render an advisory opinion, which is precisely what the doctrine of ripeness helps to prevent.”
If the disabilities assistants ever elects union representation, they can refile.