Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Monday, June 30, 2014

Labor Dodges Bullet In Supreme Court - For Now

From Politico:

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.


  1. The anti-union people filing these suits have a plan - not to go for the big enchilada but to chip a way a bit at a time. They will use this as a springboard for the next step in the assault on unions. Ironically, I know of anti-Unity folks who ignore the long-term and want to see them punished for not supporting the membership and would withdraw from the union and urge others to do so too. There are also the "withdraw from COPE" people who want to starve the UFT of political action funds.

    1. Norm, when you see what the UFT does with its political action funds, can't you see why rank and file would want to withdraw? I know as a long run strategy, it's a bad one - but given how bad things have gotten on the ground in the DOE, I totally understand the desire to starve the UFT leadership of their political cashola. I also see you're point about not starving them - but you gotta hold your nose when you see what these @#$%ers are doing with the money.

    2. People are often asking for MORE and ICE before it to lead a removal from COPE campaign. I am not there yet -- but if we ever did I would try to use such a campaign to leverage democratic structural changes in the UFT - like set up an escrow account which would be released to the union upon said changes being enacted.

      I never gave to COPE myself. My CL tried to get me to give because he could win an award with 100% COPE contributors. One day as a joke I flipped him a quarter and he then claimed 100% and won the Tractenberg award. When I became CL I never sold COPE or discouraged it. But one reborn Christian in my school wanted to withdraw from COPE due to the union support for abortion and it took a prybar to get him out. I suggested he reduce his contribution to a penny but he felt it was a moral issue and finally got out of COPE.

  2. Also, the decision turned on the fact that the home care workers have very little of their working conditions or salary "collectively bargained." The state and the "employer", in this case the recipient of the services, establish the work plan and the state pretty much establishes the this is not in any way a direct shot at public sector unions that do collectively bargain on behalf of employees and can make a claim that they have a right to agency fees.

    1. It wasn't the best case to use to launch an assault on all public service unions, that's true - but as Norm notes above, they're building their way to that and this case is one of the building blocks.

      Still, was nice to not see a total hammer job today, because that's kinda what I was expecting.