Tuesday, November 12, 2019
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Non-union members don't have to pay fees

The Supreme Court of the United States handed down a ruling today in an Illinois case, Harris v Quinn, saying that labor unions violate the First-Amendment rights of some government workers who aren’t in the union when they require those workers to pay so-called “fair-share” fees.

The case involved home-care providers, who take care of patients in the patients’ homes and are paid through Illinois’s Medicaid program. The union that represents these providers forced these workers, even the ones who didn’t want the union to represent them, to pay union fees that were intended to help pay for collective bargaining. Even non-union members benefited from the bargaining, and this fact was never in dispute.

The big difference between these home-care aides and, say, teachers in public schools, as far as the court’s decision goes, is that Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the court’s opinion, said unions play such a limited role for “partial public employees” that they shouldn’t have to pay union fees. The state itself, through its funding of Medicaid, usually sets the wages for these workers, and their wage has nothing to do with the union, Justice Alito suggested.

For a more complete discussion of the effects of this ruling, please visit the ScotusBlog entry, here. I don’t think it has much to do with schools at this point, although it could have an impact on people who are confined to their homes with a disability. The home-care industry has a high turnover, and this ruling may make it less likely for people to stick with it as a way of earning a living.

But for the schools, because teachers aren’t “partial public employees,” we don’t expect this decision to have much of an effect on teachers unions—yet. The 5-4 decision, however, took a stab at the broader Abood v Detroit Board of Education, which very much concerns teachers. In 1977, the Abood court ruled that workers could not be required to pay for purely political or campaigning activities but allowed about half the states to develop laws that require government workers to pay union fees, even if they decide not to join the union where they work.

Today’s ruling, which is limited to “partial” public employees and not “full-fledged” public employees like teachers or firefighters, moves closer to abolishing the collection of fees from non-union members and to making it more difficult for labor unions to raise money.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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  1. Diane Ravitch published statements from the country’s two largest teachers unions about the above decision in the Supreme Court of the United States:

    National Education Association and Dennis Van Roekel (June 30):

    The Supreme Court of the United States today struck another blow against working families with its narrow 5-4 decision in Harris v. Quinn when it eliminated agency fee arrangements for Illinois home healthcare workers. By casting doubt on case law that has been settled for decades, the Court’s ruling also creates insecurity and instability for employers and unions throughout the public sector. Harris v. Quinn was brought by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW), a political group whose extreme agenda seeks to weaken the power of working people.

    At issue in the case was whether non-union members could reap the wages, benefits and protections negotiated in a collectively bargained contract without needing to pay their fair share. The National Education Association, joined by California Teachers Association and Change to Win, filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court to expose the truly radical nature of NRTW’s arguments and underscore their audacious claim that public-sector collective bargaining itself is constitutionally suspect.

    “Quality public services, economic stability and prosperity starts with strong unions, but today the Supreme Court of the United States created a roadblock on that path to the American Dream. This ruling jeopardizes a proven method for raising the quality of home health care services—namely, allowing home health care workers to join together in a strong union that can bargain for increased wages, affordable health care and increased training.

    “Americans count on quality public services provided by public employees like educators. We need workplaces, including public schools, where front-line employees have a voice. Today’s decision shuts the door on one proven method for ensuring that public sector workers’ voices are heard. At a time when we are just starting to dig out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we should be creating an economy that works for all of us—not taking radical steps that undermine the rights of public workers while creating uncertainty and instability in the workplace.

    “As a high school teacher and coach for 23 years, I saw how the entire team benefited when we all worked together. With today’s ruling, the Supreme Court took away the fairness and camaraderie that comes with working in a team. Agency fees are a common-sense, straight-forward way to ensure fairness and protect equity and individual rights. Every educator who enjoys the benefits and protections of a negotiated contract should, in fairness, contribute to maintaining the contract. And fair share simply makes sure that all educators share the cost of negotiations for benefits that all educators enjoy, regardless of whether they are association members.

    “Despite today’s decision, we know that public sector workers will continue to organize—in public sector bargaining states and non-bargaining states, in agency fee states and right to work states—because public sector workers know that a union is the best way for all of us to ensure good schools, quality public services and economic prosperity.”

    AFT President Randi Weingarten (June 30):

    Statement from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on the Harris v. Quinn decision. Today’s Harris v. Quinn decision upholds the right of public sector unions to represent public employees, including their right to collectively bargain, but the Supreme Court refused to extend the right for a union to collect fair share fees for that purpose from Illinois home healthcare workers who are not members.

    “While the court upheld the importance of collective bargaining and unions to families and communities, let’s be clear that working people, who have aspired to the middle class and tried to make a better life for their families, have taken it on the chin for years. Stagnating wages, loss of pensions and lack of upward mobility have defined the economic distress they have experienced. Today’s decision makes it worse.

    “The Roberts court has consistently ruled in favor of corporate interests, while diminishing the rights of labor. This court has built a record of weakening the rights of both voters and working families; no one should be surprised by this decision.

    “America’s workers have gone through the crucible of tough times and adversity—that’s why they formed America’s labor movement. Workers did not start off with their rights being protected by government. We had to—and still must—organize ourselves, our families and others to secure good jobs, great public schools, prosperous communities and opportunity for all. While disappointed in the court’s decision, the American Federation of Teachers will do what we have always done: redouble our efforts to empower and engage our members around the issues they care about and the work they do, and to serve as a strong voice for our communities, our democracy and opportunity for all.”

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