CTNJ file photo
SEIU rally in 2010 (CTNJ file photo)

In a ruling that could impact Connecticut’s unions, the U.S. Supreme Court found Monday that personal care attendants in Illinois are not “full-fledged” state employees and can’t be compelled to pay public sector union dues.

The justices ruled 5-4 in Harris v. Quinn that home health care workers in Illinois who are paid through Medicaid but who work for private individuals are not subject to the law that requires public sector workers to pay unions for their representation. That law had clear boundaries in that it applied only to public sector workers, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion.

“Extending those boundaries to encompass partial-public employees, quasi-public employees, or simply private employees would invite problems,” he wrote.

The Illinois case could have ramifications here Connecticut, where home care attendants voted in 2012 to have SEIU District 1199 represent them in collective bargaining with the state under a similar arrangement.

The process was put in motion by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy through an executive order. The order was controversial to some and was challenged in a lawsuit that claimed the process amounted to the forced unionization of some workers. The lawsuit was unsuccessful after the legislature codified and expanded the executive orders.

Since then, the union negotiated an agreement that included pay increases for the personal care workers.

The local impact of the Supreme Court decision was unclear Monday.

Malloy issued a statement calling the decision a blow to the rights of American workers, but said his office was working to determine what effect it will have in Connecticut.

“While we review today’s ruling to determine exactly how it will impact workers in Connecticut, I can guarantee that we will continue to stand with them and keep improving the jobs and fair wages that they have worked for,” Malloy said.

Attorney General George Jepsen called the ruling “disappointing” in a statement and said his office was also reviewing it to determine “what effect, if any” the decision will have on home health care workers in Connecticut.

Meanwhile, SEIU 1199 New England issued a press release framing the decision as damaging to Illinois workers but limited in scope. President David Pickus said Connecticut’s personal care attendants already have made gains since unionizing.

“No court decision is going to stop them from continuing to improve their lives and the lives of the people for whom they care. We’re committed to working with the state and our allies to ensure home care workers have a voice for good jobs and quality home care,” Pickus said.

The decision was praised by the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, the conservative think tank that backed the lawsuit against the executive orders in 2012. In a press release, the group said the ruling “effectively invalidates” both Malloy’s executive order and the law codifying it.

Yankee Institute President Carol Platt Liebau said the court made two things “crystal clear” through the ruling.

“Home health care workers work for their elderly or disabled patients — not the state — and private homes are not union shops. Obviously, this opinion does not prohibit any worker from paying union fees if he wishes to do so. But no longer can the state force home health care workers to join a union and pay dues against their will,” she said.

Daniel Schwartz, an attorney with Shipman & Goodwin who writes the Connecticut Employment Law Blog, said it remains to be seen how the ruling will impact Connecticut home health care workers.

However, Schwartz said the court issued a more narrow ruling than some expected by making a distinction between “full-fledged” and “partial public employees.” He said it will not impact on the “full-fledged” employees.

“People were wondering if the court’s decision was going to be broader than it was. It certainly was not as far reaching as some had expected or feared depending on their point of view,” Schwartz said.