The Supreme Court Monday sided with home health care workers in Illinois who want out of a union but stopped short of a sweeping decision that could have decimated union finances and membership.
In Harris v. Quinn, the justices declined to reverse a precedent, set in 1977, that held states could compel public-sector employees to pay union dues. Laws mandating such payments exist in 26 states and will remain intact, in a major victory for organized labor.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing for a 5-4 majority, called the precedent "questionable," signaling an openness to revisit it in future cases.
Given the impact of Vergara on teacher tenure, a Supreme Court ruling reversing the 1977 precedent that allows states to compel public sector workers to pay union dues would have had a devastating effect on the AFT and NEA.
A bullet dodged - for now.
As Politico notes, Alito left open the possibility of revisiting the precedent in future cases.
The Associated Press has more:
In a 5-4 split along ideological lines, the justices said the practice violates the First Amendment rights of nonmembers who disagree with the positions that unions take.
The ruling is a setback for labor unions that have bolstered their ranks — and bank accounts — in Illinois and other states by signing up hundreds of thousands of in-home care workers. It could lead to an exodus of members who will have little incentive to pay dues if nonmembers don’t have to share the burden of union costs.
But the ruling was limited to this particular segment of workers — not private sector unions — and it stopped short of overturning decades of practice that has generally allowed public sector unions to pass through their representation costs to nonmembers.
Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said home care workers are different from other types of government employees because they work primarily for their disabled or elderly customers and do not have most of the rights and benefits of state employees.
The case involves about 26,000 Illinois workers who provide home care for disabled people and are paid with Medicaid funds administered by the state. In 2003, the state passed a measure deeming the workers state employees eligible for collective bargaining.
A majority of the workers then selected a union to negotiate with the state to increase wages, improve health benefits and set up training programs. Those workers who chose not to join the union had to pay proportional “fair share” fees to cover collective bargaining and other administration costs.
A group of workers led by Pamela Harris — a home health aide who cares for her disabled son at home — filed a lawsuit arguing the fees violate the First Amendment. Backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the workers said it wasn’t fair to make someone pay fees to a group that takes positions the fee-payer disagrees with.
The workers argue they are not government employees capable of being unionized in the traditional sense. They are different, they say, because they work in people’s homes, not on government property, and are not supervised by other state employees.
The workers had urged the justices to overturn a 1977 Supreme Court decision which held that public employees who choose not to join a union can still be required to pay representation fees, as long as those fees don’t go toward political purposes. They say the union is not merely seeking higher wages, but making a political push for expansion of Medicaid payments.
Alito said the court was not overturning that case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. That case, he said, is confined “to full-fledged state employees.”
Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissent for the four liberal justices. Kagan said the majority’s decision to leave the older case in place is “cause for satisfaction, though hardly applause.”
Given the bomb that was Vergara a few weeks back, I'll take the majority's decision to leave the older case precedent in place as a minor victory.
Alas, it will probably be short-lived.
No doubt Alito, who specializes in union-busting, is looking for a better case to sweep away the old precedent.