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updated: 7/1/2014 11:11 AM

Lake County mom wins U.S. Supreme Court case

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  • Video: Harris wins case

  • Pam Harris kisses 25-year-old son Josh at their Winthrop Harbor home after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor. Harris wanted to avoid having to pay mandatory dues to the union that represents similar Illinois workers, and she won her yearslong court case Monday.

       Pam Harris kisses 25-year-old son Josh at their Winthrop Harbor home after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor. Harris wanted to avoid having to pay mandatory dues to the union that represents similar Illinois workers, and she won her yearslong court case Monday.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Pam Harris of Winthrop Harbor won a yearslong court case Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Illinois home health care workers cannot be required to pay fees that help cover a union's costs of collective bargaining.

       Pam Harris of Winthrop Harbor won a yearslong court case Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Illinois home health care workers cannot be required to pay fees that help cover a union's costs of collective bargaining.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

The Lake County woman whose name was on the major U.S. Supreme Court labor decision that struck a blow to public employee unions Monday said she's grateful and ready to move forward.

Pamela Harris' 25-year-old son Josh has a rare genetic syndrome, and she cares for him at home and gets paid by the state to do so. She wanted to avoid having to pay mandatory dues to the union that represents similar Illinois workers, and she won her yearslong court case Monday.

She'd been waiting for the case for weeks, but because of the court's calendar a decision had to come Monday. So Harris and her husband tracked a popular Supreme Court blog on computers in their Winthrop Harbor home and put the picture on their TV so visitors could watch, too, as the decision was announced.

Harris says she's not against unions but doesn't feel parents taking care of their children should have to pay dues.

"My only intention was to do something that was right for families," Harris said.

"Today, I am part of a big story," she said. "Tomorrow, it rests with the labor attorneys and elected officials."

In a 5-4 split along ideological lines, the justices said Illinois home health care workers cannot be required to pay fees that help cover a union's costs of collective bargaining because it violates the First Amendment rights of nonmembers who disagree with the positions that unions take.

The ruling is a setback for labor unions that have bolstered their ranks and their bank accounts in Illinois and other states by signing up hundreds of thousands of in-home care workers. It could lead to an exodus of members who will have little incentive to pay dues if nonmembers don't have to share the burden of union costs.

"There are thousands of workers who care for our seniors and people with disabilities in Illinois, and they deserve the right to collectively bargain for decent wages, benefits and proper working conditions," Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement.

The Supreme Court ruling was limited to "partial-public employees" and stopped short of overturning decades of practice that has generally allowed public sector unions of teachers, firefighters and other government workers to pass through their representation costs to nonmembers.

Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said home care workers "are different from full-fledged public employees" because they work primarily for their disabled or elderly customers and do not have most of the rights and benefits of state employees. The ruling does not affect private sector workers.

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said her union would work with Illinois officials to create a new model for "working together to create good jobs and improve the quality of care that we deliver to seniors and the disabled."

In the time since the Supreme Court took the case, Harris said she studied up on the court's complicated process, saying she felt it was important to know what was happening in a national case that carried her name, including knowing Latin legal terms like "certiorari."

"Not only do I know what it is but I can spell it," Harris said.

"It's my responsibility to have some understanding of how the Supreme Court works," Harris said.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, a Western Springs Republican, and state Rep. JoAnn Osmond, an Antioch Republican, were at Harris' home to watch for the ruling Monday.

Osmond described Harris' reaction to Monday's decision as happy but respectful.

"She didn't stand up and hurray and hurrah," Osmond said.

• The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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