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updated: 7/1/2014 7:53 AM

Illinois union officials take stock after court decision

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  • Gilda Brown, 59, a personal health care assistant speaks during a news conference held by Service Employee Illinois Union Healthcare on Mondayin Chicago.

      Gilda Brown, 59, a personal health care assistant speaks during a news conference held by Service Employee Illinois Union Healthcare on Mondayin Chicago.

 
Associated Press

A union representing Illinois' home health care workers took stock Monday of the potential for lost revenue and dues-paying members after the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to public sector unions.

The High Court ruled unions can't collect fees from home health care workers who object to being union-affiliated, arguing that taking so-called "fair share fees" violate First Amendment rights of non-union workers. The ruling was a financial setback to unions in Illinois and beyond that've bolstered their ranks by signing up hundreds of thousands of home health care workers.

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The ruling impacts about 26,000 Illinois workers who help care for the disabled and elderly and are paid by Medicaid funds administered by the state. Roughly 70 percent are union members, according to Service Employees International Union's Healthcare Illinois President Keith Kelleher. They pay 3.3 percent of their salaries for dues while nonmembers pay about 2. 5 percent in "fair share fees" to cover collective bargaining rights. The workers are eligible for collective bargaining under a 2003 executive order.

Kelleher estimated the union could lose "millions" and said they'd target home health care workers in the private sector to make up for it. He dismissed questions about the potential of dwindling political influence.

"We are concerned about members leaving, but not en masse," he said. "This has awakened us and we are going to be even more aggressive going forward and organize the rest of the industry."

The case was brought by Illinois in-home care workers led by Pamela Harris -- a home health care aide who cares for her disabled son -- who said they didn't want to pay fees related to collective bargaining. They claimed "fair share fees" violate constitutional rights by compelling them to associate with the union.

"Families in Illinois can relax knowing their homes are safe from being a union workplace and there will be no third party intruding into the care we provide our disabled sons and daughters," Harris said in a statement through the National Right to Work Foundation.

Unionized home health care workers and those receiving care disagreed.

Gilda Brown, a personal assistant, pays more than $600 in yearly union dues and says it's worth it for salary increases she's received.

The lawsuit names Gov. Pat Quinn who later expanded the 2003 order. He called Monday's decision "disappointing" and vowed to keep fighting for workers' rights. The issue has come up often on the campaign trail. The Chicago Democrat is facing a tough re-election challenge from Republican Bruce Rauner, who's vowed to fight "government union bosses"

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said the ruling was narrow and wouldn't change Illinois' home health care program overall.

But some still worried.

Michael Grice, a 57-year-old quadriplegic, has four personal assistants come to his apartment weekly to help him bathe and cook.

"This could affect the quality of care that I'm receiving," he said.

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