A mom’s fight for justice



Pam Harris is a mom from suburban Chicago. Her adult son, Josh, has a rare genetic disability that means he needs constant care. Pam is doing what any mom would do; she is fighting to give her son the very best care he can get.

Instead of putting Josh in a state institution, the Harris family receives a modest subsidy from Medicaid that allows Pam to stay home and take care of her son.

But in 2009, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issued an executive order authorizing the state to unionize Pam and other families who receive this benefit. As part of being unionized, Pam would be forced to pay dues to the Service Employees International Union whether she wanted to or not.

Pam fought back. She declined to unionize. She wants her checks to support Josh’s care, not the union’s agenda, and she doesn’t want the union to intrude upon her home or relationship with her son.

So she took action.

Pam told other home-care providers what was happening, and the providers collectively voted against unionization.

Pam asked Quinn to respect providers’ wishes and rescind his executive order. But Quinn refused.

So Pam filed a lawsuit challenging the order. Our public interest law firm, the Liberty Justice Center, filed an amicus brief supporting her in November 2013.

Pam took her fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, and her case was heard today.

We are optimistic that the Supreme Court will act to strike these arrangements down, but cannot guarantee success. There are three possible outcomes:

  • First would be a broad ruling against agency fees, which are reduced fees workers in unionized workplaces can pay in lieu of membership dues. This would be akin to a government Right-to-Work law, which gives workers the freedom to choose whether to join a union. Should this happen, unions at the state and local level will likely look for loopholes and/or file delaying lawsuits. This is the least likely result.
  • Second is a ruling that would strike the unionization of home-based caregivers that leaves agency fees in place for legitimate government employees, but bars the unionization of Harris and others like her. This is the most likely scenario.
  • Finally, there is a chance that the Supreme Court will leave these arrangements undisturbed.

The Supreme Court should release its ruling in June.

Paul Kersey
Director of Labor Policy
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