The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a significant blow to government labor unions today, ruling that so-called “partial public employees” cannot be forced to pay union dues or fees. The case in question, Harris v. Quinn, involves home care providers in Illinois, who are not public employees in any traditional sense, but were designated as such by then-Governor Rod Blagojevich because the care they provide is paid for by Medicaid.
Writing the majority 5-4 opinion, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. concluded that there was a category of government employee — a partial public employee — who can opt out of joining a union and not be required to contribute dues to that labor group.
Justice Alito wrote that home-care aides who are typically employed by an ill or disabled person with Medicaid’s paying their wages would be classified as partial public employees, which would not be the same as public-school teachers or police officers who work directly for the government.
Because states often set wages for partial public employees like home-care aides and because unions often do not conduct collective bargaining for them, these aides cannot be required to pay union fees, Justice Alito wrote. He wrote that requiring these home-care aides to pay would be a violation of their First Amendment rights.
The ruling is a major loss, though not a death sentence, for unions such as AFSCME and SEIU, who have spent a great deal of time and money seeking to unionize independent childcare providers, home care workers, and other so-called “partial public employees.” A more apt term would be pseudo-public employees, as their only nexus with government is the subsidies that their clients or customers utilize. Government unions’ strategy for future growth has hinged upon the forced unionization of these pseudo-public employees. The SCOTUS ruling significantly hampers that cynical strategy.
However, the Court left in place, at least for now, the system of compulsory unionism that infringes upon the rights of full-fledged public employees, including millions of teachers, cops, civil servants, and others.
National Education Association (NEA), SEIU, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) are the four largest labor unions in the country.
NEA has 3 million members, SEIU has 1.8 million, AFT has 1.5 million, and AFSCME has 1.3 million; NEA and AFT’s numbers are inflated by the fact that several state affiliates belong to both national unions.
Plaintiffs in the Harris case — and individuals like them in other forced unionism states — are now protected from SEIU’s dues-skimming, but SEIU, NEA, AFT, and AFSCME still stomp on the First Amendment rights of millions of public employees.
In Minnesota, childcare providers celebrated the SCOTUS ruling, which has major implications for Big Labor’s childcare and PCA unionization efforts. Those attempts, and the state law that enabled them, are the subject of a federal lawsuit, Parrish v. Dayton. That lawsuit was filed by a dozen Minnesota childcare providers, asserting that the Family Child Care Providers Representation Act violates their First Amendment rights. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which represents the plaintiff in Harris v. Quinn, also represents the Minnesota plaintiffs.
Due to the case’s similarity to Harris v. Quinn, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit had previously enjoined Parrish v. Dayton pending the Supreme Court’s Harris ruling. The case has been on hold since September 2013, which has also prevented the state from calling a union election. (For background on Parrish v. Dayton, view the legal briefs from the plaintiffs, the State of Minnesota, and AFSCME Council 5.)
Rochester childcare provider Jennifer Parrish, who is the lead plaintiff challenging the Minnesota childcare union law, praised the Harris ruling today: “Like Harris v. Quinn, the lawsuit filed here in Minnesota on behalf of myself and 11 other child-care providers is a First Amendment challenge. In fact, the two cases are nearly identical, which leads us to believe the ruling today has set the legal precedent needed to permanently enjoin this unconstitutional child-care union scheme once and for all. We applaud the ruling and thank the Supreme Court Justices for putting the individual rights of citizens like us over the interests of powerful unions.”
Speaking of the interests of powerful unions, the head of AFSCME Council 5, which is seeking to unionize Minnesota childcare providers, responded to the ruling: “Child care providers and home care workers will continue to have a strong voice for good jobs and quality care for their consumers. This decision doesn’t stop them from organizing and collectively bargaining with states.” SEIU Minnesota, which is seeking to unionize home care workers, also indicated that they plan to continue their drive despite the Supreme Court ruling. And according to Minnesota Public Radio reporter Tom Scheck, Governor Dayton will continue to challenge the childcare providers’ lawsuit and will not pay plaintiffs’ legal fees.