Harris v. Quinn: A Human Interest Angle

SEIU fist

The Harris v. Quinn decision today by the U.S. Supreme Court is a major human interest story.

Congratulations to Pam Harris and her son, Josh, and family whose First Amendment freedom of association rights were vindicated.

In total, eight women petitioned for their rights before the Supreme Court against a state governor and two massive unions. What’s more, all eight of these women were participants in a Medicaid program that afforded benefits for their loved ones who have been ill.

Caring for chronically ill loved ones is a costly endeavor, financially, temporally, and emotionally.

In the Harris v. Quinn victory, thwarting Big Labor’s attack on these eight family women and the other women who predominantly provide America’s home health care and daycare (in the sister case of Parrish v. Dayton) is great news.

“One Less Problem without Ya”

Mothers sharing Pam Harris’s legitimate fears about unionism intruding in her family’s home, interfering with care for her adult son’s developmental disabilities, can now tell the unions, “I’ve got one less problem without ya.”

Since the Service Employees International Union’s former boss Andy Stern declared his union “too male, pale, and stale,” women have been targeted by Big Labor’s pressure tactics, such as described in SEIU’s infamous intimidation manual exposed in a racketeering case against SEIU.

Freedom for “Partial” Government Employees

It’s ridiculous that anyone receiving taxpayer subsidies could therefore be considered a government employee and then have the government make you pay for exclusive representation by union bosses with whom you disagree; that’d be like calling 7-Eleven workers government employees because 7-11 takes food stamps, and then forcing the 7-Eleven employees to pay shakedown money to union bosses they oppose. Now the ruling makes clear that no “partial” government employees can be made to pay unions if they don’t want to join or don’t support the speech of the unions.

Unions Are Furious

The unions are furious at the Supreme Court of the United States today.  The following amalgamation of quotes from their press releases tells the story:

  • “This ruling jeopardizes … allowing home health care workers to join together in a strong union…” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said.
  • “By casting doubt on case law that has been settled for decades, the Court’s ruling also creates insecurity and instability for employers and unions throughout the public sector,” says the National Education Association.
  • “With today’s ruling, the Supreme Court took away the fairness and camaraderie that comes with working in a team,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said.
  • NEA President Dennis Van Roekel is “deeply troubled by today’s decision.”
  • SEIU states, “The ruling places at risk a system of consumer-directed home care in Illinois.”
  • Alliance for Justice states, “This decision is a setback… We will work with our friends in the labor movement to fight any further erosion…”

Salient Points in Harris v. Quinn

The following salient points from today’s majority opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court case Harris v. Quinn point the way toward women’s First Amendment liberties:

  • This case presents the question whether the First Amendment permits a State to compel personal care providers to subsidize speech on matters of public concern by a union that they do not wish to join or support. We hold that it does not.
  • The Abood Court’s analysis is questionable on several grounds. The First Amendment analysis in Hanson was thin, and Street was not a constitutional decision. And the Court fundamentally misun­derstood Hanson’s narrow holding, which upheld the authorization, not imposition, of an agency fee. The AboodCourt 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 difficulty in public-sector cases of distinguishing union expenditures for collective bargaining from those designed for politi­cal purposes. Nor does theAbood Court seem to have anticipated the administrative problems that would result in attempting to classify union expenditures as either chargeable or nonchargeable, see, e.g., Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Assn., 500 U. S. 507, or the practical prob­lems that would arise from the heavy burden facing objecting non­members wishing to challenge the union’s actions. Finally, the Abood Court’s critical “labor peace” analysis rests on the unsupported em­pirical assumption that exclusive representation in the public sector depends on the right to collect an agency fee from nonmembers.
  • Because of Abood’s questionable foundations, and because Illi­nois’ PAs are quite different from full-fledged public employees, this Court refuses to extend Aboodto the situation here.
  • Because Abood does not control here, generally applicable First Amendment standards apply. Thus, the agency-fee provision here must serve a “compelling state interes[t] . . . that cannot be achieved through means significantly less restrictive of associational free­doms.” Knox, supra, at ___. None of the interests that respondents contend are furthered by the agency-fee provision is sufficient.
  • Pertinent to the potential extent of this ruling, “Millions of Americans, due to age, illness, or injury, are unable to live in their own homes without assistance and are unable to afford the expense of in-home care. In order to prevent these individuals from having to enter a nursing home or other facility, the federal Medicaid program funds state-run programs that provide in-home services to individuals whose conditions would otherwise require institutionalization. … Almost every State has established such a program. … Many of these personal assistants are relatives of the person receiving care, and some of them provide care in their own homes.”
  • The First Amendment analysis in Hanson was thin, and the Court’s resulting First Amendment holding was narrow.
  • The mere fact that nonunion members benefit from union speech is not enough to justify an agency fee because “private speech often furthers the interests of nonspeakers, and that does not alone empower the state to compel the speech to be paid for.” Lehnert, 500 U. S., at 556 (opinion of SCALIA, J.).
  • If we allowed Abood to be extended to those who are not full-fledged public employees, it would be hard to see just where to draw the line, and we therefore confine Abood’s reach to full-fledged state employees.
  • All they [petitioners] seek is the right not to be forced to contribute to the union, with which they broadly disagree.
  • For one thing, any threat to labor peace is diminished because the personal assistants do not work together in a common state facility but instead spend all their time in private homes, either the customers’ or their own. Cf. Perry Ed. Assn. v. Perry Local Educators’ Assn., 460 U. S. 37, 51 (1983) (“[E]xclusion of the rival union may reasonably be considered a means of insuring labor-peace within the schools”). Federal labor law reflects the fact that the organization of household workers like the personal assistants does not further the interest of labor peace. “[A]ny individual employed . . . in the domestic service of any family or person at his home” is excluded from coverage under the National Labor Relations Act. See 29 U. S. C. §152(3).
  • A host of organizations advocate on behalf of the interests of persons falling within an occupational group, and many of these groups are quite successful even though they are dependent on voluntary contributions. Respondents’ showing falls far short of what the First Amendment demands.
  • To begin, the Pickering test is inapplicable because with respect to the personal assistants, the State is not acting in a traditional employer role.
  • Increased wages and benefits for personal assistants would almost certainly mean increased expenditures under the Medicaid program, and it is impossible to argue that the level of Medicaid funding (or, for that matter, state spending for employee benefits in general) is not a matter of great public concern. In recent years, Medicaid expenditures have represented nearly a quarter of all state expenditures.
  • Agency-fee provisions unquestionably impose a heavy burden on the First Amendment interests of objecting employees.
  • Thus, even if the permissibility of the agency-shop provision in the collective bargaining agreement now at issue were analyzed under Pickering, that provision could not be upheld.
  • If we accepted Illinois’ argument, we would approve an unprecedented violation of the bedrock principle that, except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.
  • The First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program who do not want to join or support the union.

The First Amendment’s freedom of association is the big winner today in the alleviating of these women’s legitimate fears of unionism’s intrusion into their own homes.

Looking Forward

Unions such as the National Education Association are right to note that the opinion casts doubt on case law, such as Abood and Hanson, that has been settled for decades. Should the right case come along, we may see more aggravation for the unions and more alleviation for regular workers and families like that of Pam and Josh Harris.

In the more immediate future, look to a victory for the twelve women who sued Minnesota’s governor in Parrish v. Dayton, and look to see the women like Pam Harris, whose money was extracted from them under this unconstitutional “scheme,” see return of their hard-earned money.

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