Harris v. Quinn Gives Home Care Workers Renewed Opportunity to Get Back Compulsory Dues

When you can’t win, change the players. That was essentially the strategy pursued by government employee unions in recent years. This week, it came to a halt.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn put a brake on government unions’ efforts to expand the definition of “public employee” to any service provide who receives state assistance, such as home care workers who are paid by Medicaid. The Court ruled that “partial public employees” like home care providers cannot be required to pay for the costs of representation by a union—representation many didn’t ask for.

Today, the Court gave some home care workers who have been forced to pay dues a renewed opportunity to get those dues back. The Court applied Harris v. Quinn to Schlaud v. Snyder, a suit brought by a group of Michigan home care workers seeking class action certification in order to get back union dues taken from them unwillingly.

Attorney Timothy McConville of the firm Odin, Feldman & Pittleman explains:

Schlaud and other plaintiffs in the case are home childcare providers in Michigan who sought class-action certification in their First Amendment challenge to the state's compulsory deduction of union dues from subsidies paid to home childcare providers. In January 2009, the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) began deducting 1.15% from subsidy payments made to home childcare providers. The funds were forwarded to the union, which was a joint venture between the United Auto Workers union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.  According to the opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the union collected $2,000,019.09 in 2009 and at least $1,821,635.21 in 2010. 

Schlaud and her co-plaintiffs sought the return of the compulsory union dues that were collected in violation of their First Amendment rights. The district court denied certification of the plaintiffs’ proposed class – all home childcare providers in Michigan – because it concluded a conflict of interest existed within the class: some members voted for union representation and others voted against union representation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, and Schlaud sought review by the Supreme Court.

If the plaintiffs are successful, Schlaud would close the door on Michigan’s home care workers unionization scheme, which was based on an executive order that has been repealed. However, home care providers have been shunted into unions in several states, without their having much of a say, so more suits like this could follow.

For the unions involved, the suits could be costly, but much of that is money they never should have been able to collect in the first place.