Supreme Court Deals Another Blow to Unions

In Employment Law, General by Coolidge Wall

The Supreme Court is issuing labor law decisions at a fast and furious pace this week. Today’s decision, Harris v. Quinn, struck down an Illinois law that had previously required non-union Medicaid homecare providers to pay fees equivalent to union dues to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a public employee union. The rationale had been that such employees should be required to pay fees to help cover the union’s costs of collective bargaining. Although it invalided the Illinois regulation, the Supreme Court did not go so far as to overturn wholesale a long-standing precedent allowing other unions to impose fees on non-union workers.

In a 5-4 split along ideological lines, Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority that the practice of mandatory union fees in this instance violates the First Amendment rights of non-union employees who disagree with the political positions advocated by unions. The decision frees hundreds of thousands of in-home care workers nationwide from this past practice and likely will incentivize active members of public unions to voluntarily drop their union status as well.

However, the Court limited its ruling to this single classification – people who are not “full-fledged public employees” – and did not address other public sector unions, including teachers, firefighters and other government workers, that regularly have benefitted from variations on the same fee collection rule.

Harris v. Quinn does not overtly affect private sector workers, although it continues a decisive trend toward declining enrollment – pushing unions out of the employer-employee relationship – throughout the United States.