High Court Ponders Compulsory Union Dues

NL-201402-coverJudges and Legislators Have Duty to Protect Employees’ Free Speech

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Today roughly 20 states have laws on the books explicitly requiring all or some front-line public workers to pay dues or fees to a union they may not want as a condition of employment.

And the vast majority of unionized government employees in the U.S. reside in these Big Labor-dominated states.

However, last month the U.S. Supreme Court heard, for the first time in more than three decades, a case that directly challenges the constitutionality of compulsory financial support for government unions (often euphemistically labeled as the “agency shop”).

The plaintiffs in Harris v. Quinn, heard by the High Court on January 21, are a group of independent-minded home care providers who have been redefined by Illinois elected officials as public employees solely for purposes of unionization.

Granting a ‘Private Entity’ Taxation Power Over Public Workers ‘Undeniably Unusual’

They contend that executive orders, laws and legislation aimed at requiring them to pay forced fees to a union they never asked for violate their First Amendment rights.

The Harris plaintiffs are being represented free of charge by a National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorney.

Federal courts have repeatedly conceded over the years that public-sector forced union dues and fees are constitutionally problematic.

For example, Justice Antonin Scalia admitted in the 2007 majority opinion for the Foundation-won Davenport case that it is “undeniably unusual for a government agency to give a private entity the power, in essence, to tax government employees.”

Abood Gave Union Bosses License to ‘Interfere’ With Employees’ Free Association

It was in another Foundation case, 1977’s Abood, that the Supreme Court originally sanctioned this “undeniably unusual” privilege for government union bosses.

Abood gave a judicial nod to forced financial support for government unions’ bargaining-related activities in jurisdictions where union officials are legally empowered to represent in the workplace employees who don’t want a union, along with those who do.

If legislators grant union officials the latter privilege, theorized Justice Potter Stewart while writing for a six-justice majority, legislators must also have the option to empower union bosses to force unwilling workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.

Justice Stewart all the same admitted that compulsory payments to unions may well “interfere in some way with an employee’s freedom to associate for the advancement of ideas, or to refrain from doing so, as he sees fit.”

Up to now, federal courts have swallowed Big Labor’s monopoly-bargaining excuse for public-sector forced union dues, even though it has left a bad taste in the mouths of many jurists. But this excuse never made any sense whatsoever to Pamela Harris, the Illinois homemaker who is the lead plaintiff in Harris.

‘I Kept Asking, “What’s The Benefit to Me?” I Could Never Get an Answer’

As Sean Higgins of the Washington Examiner explained in a January 6 profile of Ms. Harris, her main job is to take care of her developmentally disabled son, Joshua. In order to be able to do this, she gets “financial help from a state program funded through Medicaid.”

Mr. Higgins continued: “Technically, the subsidy goes to Joshua, who ‘employs’ his mother as a home health care worker. Because of this arrangement, Illinois has decided that not only is she a state employee, but that it has a compelling interest that she join a union.”

Ms. Harris doesn’t believe that the unionization of herself and of other similarly situated Illinoisans would behoove care providers, the disabled, or the public as a whole.

She told Mr. Higgins: “I kept asking, ‘What’s the benefit to me?’ I could never get an answer.”

Of course, from the time union organizers first appeared at her front door more than four years ago, having been given her home address by the state without her knowledge, they have been making gauzy promises.

“They said they could get me extra money, but I know the program is capped,” Ms. Harris recalled.

Union Bosses Advised ‘Not To Take Nonmembers For an Involuntary Ride’

Thanks largely to the opposition mobilized on a shoestring budget by Ms. Harris and a few other parents, home care providers in Illinois’s developmental disabilities program haven’t yet been corralled into a union or forced to pay union dues or fees to continue receiving financial assistance from the state. However, the threat remains.

That’s why Ms. Harris, along with seven other home care providers, including some in another state program who are already being forced to bankroll a union in order to receive government support, is suing Big Labor Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and union officials to vindicate her First Amendment rights.

In briefs to the Supreme Court as well as in oral arguments last month, Foundation attorney Bill Messenger has made a compelling and multifaceted case against Big Labor’s monopoly-bargaining excuse for “interfering” with the First Amendment freedom of the Harris plaintiffs and millions of other citizens.

For example, in a written reply last month to various claims of Quinn and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) attorneys, Mr. Messenger and his associates pointedly observed:

“[I]t is not [the SEIU Healthcare union] that is being forced to represent nonmember providers against its will, but nonmember providers who are being forced to accept [SEIU Healthcare union] representation against their will. . . .

“The least restrictive solution to any free-rider problem here is not compulsory fees, but for the union not to take nonmembers for an involuntary ride.”

“Freedom-loving Americans from coast to coast are hoping the High Court will take the opportunity it has in Harris v. Quinn to correct the grave error it made 37 years ago in Abood,” said National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix.

“But it’s not only courts that have a duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution.”

‘I Will Support, Obey and Defend the Constitution Of the United States’

Mr. Mix continued:  “In all 50 states, including the states that currently have laws on the books authorizing government union bosses to trample public employees’ free speech by forcing them to pay union dues or fees as a job condition, elected officials take an oath to defend the federal Constitution.

“For example, in Pennsylvania, the governor, legislators and other public officials solemnly swear or affirm as they are installed: ‘I will support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States . . . .’

“Right to Work supporters believe that elected officials in states like Pennsylvania thus have an obligation to fight for repeal of their statutes empowering union bosses to get public servants fired for refusal to pay union dues or fees.

“That’s why they are turning up the heat on politicians like Keystone State GOP Gov. Tom Corbett to protect employees’ First Amendment freedom by repealing government union bosses’ forced-dues privileges.”