Lareau on Harris v. Quinn: Supreme Court Strikes Down Illinois Agency Fee Provision Applicable to Personal Care Providers

Lareau on Harris v. Quinn: Supreme Court Strikes Down Illinois Agency Fee Provision Applicable to Personal Care Providers


In Harris v. Quinn, 2014 U.S. LEXIS 4504 [an enhanced version of this opinion is available to subscribers], the Supreme Court, split 5-4, held that Illinois could not compel "personal care providers" to pay an agency fee to a union designated as their collective bargaining representative. Although the plaintiffs and others opposed to public sector collective bargaining had hoped for a broader decision that would generally preclude agency fee provisions in the public sector, the Court issued a narrow ruling based on the somewhat unusual facts of the case.

In this Emerging Issues Analysis, N. Peter Lareau, author of "NLRA: Law and Practice" and numerous other books and articles in the field of labor law, summarizes the opinion of the Court, and comments on the implications of the case for future public sector challenges to agency fee provisions.


The state of Illinois operates a Home Services Program, funded by federal Medicaid and known colloquially as the state "Rehabilitation Program," which allows participants to hire a "personal assistant" to provide homecare services that would otherwise require the institutionalization of the participant. Under Illinois law, an employer-employee relationship is established between the personal care provider and the person receiving it—the "customer." The law also makes clear that "Illinois 'shall not have control or input in the employment relationship between the customer and the personal assistants.'" The Court's decision goes on to stress the law's emphasis on "the customer's employer status[,]" noting numerous examples in which the law expressly recognizes that status. At the same time, however, Illinois pays the personal assistants' salaries and imposes minimal qualifications for such employment.

The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act ("PLRA") authorizes state employees to join labor unions and to bargain collectively on the terms and conditions of employment. It also contains an agency shop provision requiring bargaining unit employees who choose not to become members of the union representing the bargaining unit to pay a fee to the union. In the 1980's, the Service Employees International Union ("SEIU") petitioned the Illinois Labor Relations Board for permission to represent the personal assistants, but was rebuffed, the Board concluding that Illinois exercised insufficient control over their terms and conditions of employment to be consider their employer under the PLRA. [footnotes omitted]

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