While the Court ruled against labor unions in Harris v. Quinn Monday, the decision wasn't the major blow to union membership many were expecting. Illinois' Service Employees International Union (SEIU) cannot force personal assistants to pay "fair share" fees to unions they don't want to join, but the court didn't rule on the large question of whether unions can force people to pay fees.
The Court ruled 5-4 that unions cannot require personal assistants who provide in-home care to pay union fees, because they are not state employees. A later Court could decide unions can't force people to pay fees, but unions as we know them avoided certain death today. "The unions have lost a tool to expand their reach. But they have dodged a major challenge to their very existence," as Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog wrote.
In 2003, over 20,000 in-home personal assistants petitioned to become state employees for the sake of unionizing to increase wages. Despite this, conservative, anti-union advocacy group National Right to Work Foundation sued the state on behalf of mothers who didn't want to pay union fees to take care of their children, as The Chicago Tribune explains. In the majority opinion written by conservative Justice Alito, the court argued that while personal assistants are paid by the state's Medicaid program, they are hired by and responsible to their customer. In that sense, they are not public employees and not subject to past rulings that allowed public employees to be charged access fees.