The Supreme Court is set to rule on a case that has the potential to be damaging to organized labor in the United States. The case, known as Harris V. Quinn could affect many public sector employees nationwide, and is being supported by the Right-to-Work Legal Foundation (RTW), an extreme right-wing group with a political agenda to weaken the power of working people.
At the center of the case are “agency fees”. As is typical in states that allow government workers to unionize and bargain collectively, union members pay dues while individuals who object to union membership pay “fair share fees”, also known as “agency fees”. These fees are meant to cover the costs of negotiating and enforcing the union contract, and prevent freeloaders as everyone in a bargaining unit benefits from a union contract whether or not they are a member of the union. “Agency Fees” have strong legal precedent and have long been considered to be fair as unions are required by law to provide representation to all members of a bargaining unit, whether they are a union member or not. No business would be able to function if they were constantly required to give away free goods and services. While the case originated in Illinois and is about home health care workers, the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation dramatically expanded the scope of the case to include all public sector workers. If the court follows the RTW’s lead, the case could nationalize Right-to-Work laws.
The case challenges the collective bargaining agreement requirement (authorized by Illinois law) that Illinois’ independent provider (IP) homecare workers who do not join the union pay “fair share fees” to compensate it for the costs of negotiating and administering contracts for all homecare workers. RTW contends that this fair share fee requirement violates homecare workers’ First Amendment rights and is suing the State of Illinois and SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana.
RTW’s legal theory in the lower courts and its Supreme Court cert petition was that the non-traditional nature of IP homecare employment means that past Supreme Court precedents regarding the validity of public sector fair share fees do not apply.
To date, every lower court and judge that has reviewed this case has dismissed RTW’s arguments. The U.S. District Court dismissed all claims as without merit and its decision was affirmed by a unanimous panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion authored by a conservative Reagan appointee. The 7th Circuit concluded that the Illinois fair share fee does not violate the First Amendment because it falls squarely under the 35-year-old precedent established by the Supreme Court in Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Education, which validated the constitutionality of fair share fees in the context of public employment.
In its Supreme Court briefs, RTW argued that (1) Abood should be overturned because, with respect to public employment, all fair share fees violate the First Amendment and (2) even if the Court declines to overrule Abood in this case, Abood should not apply to IP homecare workers because these workers are supervised by individual consumers, unlike traditional public employees.
In response, the State of Illinois argued that Abood should be upheld because it is fully consistent with the Court’s past First Amendment decisions and gives proper weight to the “government’s interest in promoting efficiency and professionalism in its workforce.” In addition, Illinois argued that Abood applies to IP homecare workers because the state’s relationship with this workforce is sufficient to enable it to engage in meaningful collective bargaining.
SEIU is watching this case very closely and CSEA will work to keep you informed of any updates in this Supreme Court case.
Who is the Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation?
The Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation is an organization that supports laws and changes to existing law that are designed/intended to break unions by slowly bleeding them dry. The ultimate objective is to weaken the labor movement as a whole. They have close ties to national right-wing network led by the Koch brothers. The Right-to-Work Legal Foundation is also attempting to bring a lawsuit on behalf of P-4 agency fee payers, as CSEA reported in Apirl. P-4 agency fee payers Stanley Juber, Thomas Faenza, Andreas Fesenmeyer, Thomas Capobianco, Veronica Calin, Gregg Shaffer, Roger Levesque, and Kurt Von Hone are listed as the plaintiffs on the suit filed by the Law Offices of Martha A. Dean, the former gubernatorial candidate.
Why Has Harris Vs. Quinn Been Brought Forward?
This case is the latest in a decades-long, extremist right-wing attack on the rights of working people to join together to improve their jobs and the quality of services they provide.
How Could Harris Vs. Quinn Affect CSEA Members?
That depends on the decision by the United States Supreme Court. A negative ruling could be restricted to Illinois, or independent providers. A worse case scenario decision has the potential to turn the entire country into a Right-to-Work state for public employees.
What Are The implications of the Case on Income inequality and Economic justice?
A bad decision will threaten our ability as Americans to unite to create good jobs in our communities and make our economy work again for everyone—at a time when wages remain stagnant and income inequality is at its highest point ever.
Whatever the Supreme Court rules, CSEA along with SEIU members nationwide will continue to stand together, more determined than ever to fight to end poverty wages and improve their jobs and the quality of care they provide.