With so much focus on the horrific Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, we seem to have forgotten about the millions of workers who’ll be screwed by the other decision handed down by the Court on Monday in Harris v Quinn. As my friend Dave Johnson wrote at OurFuture.org,
In case you were wondering why it is so hard for regular working people to get ahead in our economy, look no further than today’s Harris v. Quinn Supreme Court decision. In the usual 5-4 pattern, the corporate-conservatives on the Supreme Court struck another blow against the rights of working people to organize and try to get ahead.
Home care workers (mostly women) in Illinois (like elsewhere) were on their own, working long hours for very low pay. They were treated poorly and did not have any job security. So they organized and a majority voted to join a union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Health Care Illinois-Indiana (SEIU-HCII). The union then worked with the state of Illinois to forge a contract to deliver services to elderly and disabled state residents. Since they formed the union, they were able almost double their hourly wages and they get health insurance, regular professional training and representation from the union.
An anti-union organization, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF) – funded by the Koch and Walton families and others – brought the Harris v. Quinn suit against the union. This suit wound its way through the courts and finally the Supreme Court decided to rule on it.
The Court decided that a contract between the state of Illinois and Medicaid-funded home care workers cannot require the covered workers to pay a “fair-share fee” that covers the costs of benefits they receive from union representation. This “fair-share fee” (union dues) covers the costs of the union’s activities – collecting bargaining, implementing and enforcing the contract including making sure people are paid the right amounts, representing employees at grievance hearings, etc.
The Court decided that the “free speech” interests of those who object to paying for representation outweigh the right of the democratically elected majority that formed the union and the state to enter into a contract that requires home care workers to pay those costs in exchange for the services those costs bring to the employees.
Justice Samuel Alito said that “free speech” means this union cannot collect this fee, writing, “The First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program who do not wrote to join or support the union.”
The workers can still join unions. They can still collectively bargain. The union is still their sole bargaining agent. They just don’t have to pay fair-share fees because that violates their “free speech.”
As for “Justice” Alito’s assertion that this ruling covers only these home care workers who, he claims, are not the same as other state employees because they work for individuals in private homes, that will now be tested too.
Activists behind a lawsuit pending in federal court in California say the Harris ruling has set the stage for their complaint, which challenges the constitutionality of a California requirement that public school teachers must pay union dues regardless of whether they choose to join the union.
In fact, the majority opinion criticized as “questionable” the 1977 Supreme Court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that gave states the authority to compel public employees to pay union dues.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten joined me on the show this morning to discuss how this ruling could cripple the remaining public sector unions, noting that the private sector unions had already been decimated. We also talked about the attacks on public education she’s facing from all sided – from teacher tenure (which, she explained, is just due process – something all employees should have) and the charter school problem.
For a great explanation of the Harris v Quinn decision, including its history and ramifications, check out Harold Meyerson’s “Supreme Court Rules Disadvantaged Workers Should Be Disadvantaged Some More” at the American Prospect.
Every Wednesday morning, I spend some time chatting with Susie Madrak of Crooks & Liars. Today, just as we were discussing the technical problems that plagued me all morning and her explanation being Mercury coming out of retrograde today possibly being the cause, my internet went out! Once we got past that, we talked about the insanity of these Court decisions and the burdens on the average American.
Tomorrow, we’ll have our pre Fourth of July show… compete with the No More Bullshit Minute and some fabulous female facts, and whatever the day hands us.. radio or not!