What The Court's "Harris v Quinn" Union Decision Means Dave Johnson July 2, 2014
In case you were wondering why it is so hard for regular working people to get ahead in our economy, look no further than today's Harris v. Quinn Supreme Court decision. In the usual 5-4 pattern, the corporate-conservatives on the Supreme Court struck another blow against the rights of working people to organize and try to get ahead.
Home care workers (mostly women) in Illinois (like elsewhere) were on their own, working long hours for very low pay. They were treated poorly and did not have any job security. So they organized and a majority voted to join a union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Health Care Illinois-Indiana (SEIU-HCII). The union then worked with the state of Illinois to forge a contract to deliver services to elderly and disabled state residents. Since they formed the union, they were able almost double their hourly wages and they get health insurance, regular professional training and representation from the union.
An anti-union organization, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF) – funded by the Koch and Walton families and others – brought filed the Harris v. Quinn suit against the union. This suit wound its way through the courts and finally the Supreme Court decided to rule on it.
The Court decided that a contract between the state of Illinois and Medicaid-funded home care workers cannot require the covered workers to pay a "fair-share fee" that covers the costs of benefits they receive from union representation. This "fair-share fee" (union dues) covers the costs of the union's activities – collecting bargaining, implementing and enforcing the contract including making sure people are paid the right amounts, representing employees at grievance hearings, etc.
The Court decided that the "free speech" interests of those who object to paying for representation outweigh the right of the democratically elected majority that formed the union and the state to enter into a contract that requires home care workers to pay those costs in exchange for the services those costs bring to the employees.
Justice Samuel Alito said that "free speech" means this union cannot collect this fee, writing, "The First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program who do not wrote to join or support the union."
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