Background on the Case:
On its surface, the case deals with home care workers in Illinois who care for the disabled. The plaintiff, Pamela Harris, serves as the caretaker to her son Josh, who suffers from a rare genetic syndrome. The elder Harris receives Medicaid funds to do so and essentially functions as a state employee.
Many state-supported home care workers in Illinois are represented by the union SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana. Under the contract between the union and the state, all home care workers covered under the contract are required to pay a fee to SEIU to cover the expenses associated with bargaining, whether or not they want to be union members.
This arrangement avoids what we commonly refer to as freeloading — benefiting from the union’s work without helping to underwrite it. Since unions have to represent all the employees in a particular bargaining unit, they commonly seek requirements in their contracts that all workers pay such “fair share” fees.
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, referring to them as “partial public employees”. In a 5-4 split along ideological lines, the justices said the practice of Fair Share violates the First Amendment rights of nonmembers who disagree with the positions that unions take.
The ruling is 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.
What it Means for Us:
This could have been far worse for NEA-NH. While it represents the latest attack on public sector unions such as ours, the ruling will have no effect on the daily operations of NEA-NH or any of our locals – especially those who currently collect Fair Share fees. We continue to urge our locals to negotiate Fair Share into new bargaining agreements.
The ruling demonstrates how far a majority of Supreme Court Justices are willing to go to attack public sector working families, and creates insecurity and instability for employers and unions throughout the public sector. Harris v. Quinn was brought by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW), a political group whose extreme agenda seeks to weaken the power of working people – and it appears a majority of America’s Supreme Court judges agree with them.