By Amanda Becker and Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that in-home care workers in Illinois who are paid by the state are not similar enough to government employees to be compelled to pay union dues.
The court held on a 5-4 vote that plaintiff Pamela Harris and others who provide in-home care for family members and others with disabilities were not full-fledged public employees who could be forced to pay union dues to a public employees union.
The decision left intact the court's 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. That ruling said unions could collect such compulsory dues used for non-political activities under collective bargaining agreements.
"Abood involved full-fledged public employees, but in this case, the status of personal assistants is much different," conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority.
Illinois law excludes such in-home caregivers from retirement and health insurance plans and the state does not assume liability for actions taken during the course of their employment, Alito noted.
"Illinois deems personal assistants to be state employees for one purpose only, collective bargaining," Alito wrote.
The National Right to Work Foundation, an anti-union group that backed the caregiver plaintiffs in the case, lauded the ruling.
"We applaud these homecare providers’ effort to convince the Supreme Court to strike down this constitutionally-dubious scheme, thus freeing thousands of homecare providers from unwanted union control," the group's president, Mark Mix said, in a statement.
The case is Pamela Harris, et al v. Pat Quinn, Governor of Illinois, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-681.
(Editing by Will Dunham)