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.