Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Supreme Court Finds That Illinois' Public Employees Lack Free Collective Bargaining

George Leef posts in Forbes about the case of Harris v. Quinn, which was recently decided in favor of the workers and against the union.  The case involved home health care workers who own their own tools, or whose employers own their own tools, but receive healthcare dollars from the USSA. The Service Employees' International Union struck a deal with now criminally convicted Governor  Rod Blagojevich and later Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois to force the private sector healthcare workers to join the SEIU.  The SEIU, Governor Quinn, and Illinois had no interest in whether or not the employees wanted to join a union; they were happy to sign a law to compel them to join, undoubtedly in exchange for the SEIU's contributing to Blagojevich's, Quinn's or some other Democrat's campaign coffers.

The court overturned this authoritarian arrangement.  In deciding the case, the court addressed Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held that public sector employees who do not wish to join a union can be compelled to pay an agency fee although they must be refunded monies spent for political and ideological purposes unrelated to the union's workplace responsibilities.

The Supreme Court seems to have brought that entire approach to public sector union dues paying into question. Under the union contract at CUNY, for example, nonmembers of the union are compelled to pay an agency fee equal to the dues. Since the dues are 1.05% (1% for part-timers), there would be a significant reason not to join the union if the agency fee were to be eliminated. The court seems to say that the agency-fee arrangement is a First Amendment issue:

Preventing nonmembers from free-riding on the union's efforts is a rationale generally insufficient
to overcome First Amendment objections...and in this respect Abood is something of an anomaly. The Abood court also failed to appreciate the distinction between core union speech in the public sector and core union speech in the private sector, as well as the conceptual difficult in public-sector cases of distinguishing union expenditures for collective bargaining from those designed for political purposes. Nor does the Abood Court seem to have anticipated the administrative problems that would result in attempting to classify union expenditures as either chargeable or nonchargeable. 

The time may be ripe to reopen the question of compulsory agency fees in the public sector.

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