In a narrow ruling, the Supreme Court ruled (5-4) that requiring “partial public employees” did not have to pay union dues. This case revolved around home care workers who clients pay them through Medicaid or Medical Assistance. This case had the potential to be much wider. Many feared that the Roberts’ Court would effectively overturn previous decisions and wipe-out requirements that non-members pay dues. Still, this decision does roll back the power of unions and in some states significantly hurts their financial standing.
This is a difficult case to think about because it involves home care workers who run the gamut of traditional employee working for a corporation to family members quitting their jobs to care for a parent. It is hard to imagine the justice in depending a cut of the meager Medicaid stipend given to a son or daughter who is providing 24 hour care for their parent. At the same time, a number of care workers also work solely with non-related private clients paid in cash that may indirectly come through medicaid or partially covered by medicaid. Of course, care workers for non-unionized firms who also receive medicaid for payment do not have to pay union dues.
This decision by the court and the minority opinion highlight the changing definitions of “worker” and “employee” in contemporary society. Until today, I have never heard the term “partial public employee” but I imagine we will be hearing it a lot now and expect that range to start growing as states start imagining ways of externalizing their costs onto workers. The notion of “the worker” is changing and is becoming quite muddled. In some cases workers are entrepreneurs in others strict employees. This makes the work of organizing workers frustrating and exciting. May we live in interesting times!
While this may be confusing for those of us in the cooperative community, it is a clear threat for those organizations strictly regulated under the National Labor Relations Act or State labor relations acts. For labor unions, ruling such as this will only complicate their job. As more workers get redefined as “partial publics” expect that fight to grow on how to organize this group.