The Supreme Court yesterday ruled unions cannot collect fees from home health care workers in Illinois who do not want to support that union.
The Harris v. Quinn decision throws some doubt on the continued unionization of home health workers around the rest of the country and in California — but senior advocates and union officials in this state are uncertain what that ruling precisely means to them.
“This court decision could be a threat, but we don’t know that yet,” said Gary Passmore, vice president of the Congress of California Seniors, a not-for-profit advocacy group for seniors and individuals with disabilities.
“Because our program in California is unique and the program in Illinois is somewhat unique, as well,” Passmore said, “we’ll need some time to know what effect Illinois’ unique law might have on California.”
That sentiment was echoed by Laphonza Butler, the president of SEIU-California (the Service Employees International Union). She noted that before home health care workers unionized in 1999, they were making $3 an hour without health benefits, and that pay rate has risen to $9.65 an hour.
“Home health care workers bring dignity to the work they do and to the lives of the people to whom they deliver that care,” Butler said.
There are an estimated 330,000 home health workers in California serving an estimated 450,000 Californians, and roughly 70% of those home workers are family members, Passmore said. He called California’s program the model for the rest of the nation.
“The size of our program makes it unique, with more workers than any other state, and the focus in this state to keep people at home with the help of community caregiving,” Passmore said. “California is unique in terms of the age of our program, the scale of our program, and the extent to which we work to keep people independent and living at home.”
Illinois doesn’t have a program like California’s In-Home Supportive Services, where the state pays for a certain number of hours of care, so final conclusions cannot be drawn about all of the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision, Passmore said.
“This is a tightly written and specific decision,” Passmore said. “How it affects California is still unknown.”
Vibiana Saavedra of Santa Maria is one of those IHSS caregivers, getting reimbursed for some of the hours she stays home from work to care for her disabled daughter.
“We must make sure our program is viable and remains strong in the long run,” Saavedra said. “Because our population in California is aging. They’re going to need this care. We see the benefits of people staying home if they want to.”