A Supreme Court ruling today in a case involving home health care providers in Illinois could have a bearing on a California lawsuit involving teachers who object to paying union dues that are used for political purposes.
Split along ideological lines with the conservatives prevailing, 5-4, the Court ruled in Harris v. Quinn that “partial public employees” cannot be compelled to contribute to union costs. The plaintiffs are non-union aides who work in private homes but who were nonetheless required to pay union dues by virtue of the union benefits negotiated for health care workers employed by state institutions.
In writing the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said, “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 decision could be viewed as a blow to unions that argue benefits negotiated on behalf of workers benefit all workers, including non-union members. It could also encourage union members to resign, knowing they would maintain negotiated benefits without paying for them.
The California case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, is now before the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Ten California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International (CEAI) are contending that teachers and other public employees have the right to decide for themselves whether to join a union and contribute to its political positions.
The plaintiffs are represented by The Center for Individual Rights and its lead counsel, Michael Carvin, who argued for President George W. Bush in the 2000 Florida election recount.
“Today’s decision is a good sign of things to come,” Terry Pell, president of the CIR, said in a statement. “The Court will soon have before it another union dues case, one that asks it to recognize the First Amendment rights of all employees to decide whether to pay union dues, not just home healthcare workers.
“The Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association suit challenging the forced payment of compulsory union dues . . .raises this broader question and today’s decision in Harris makes it more likely than ever that the Court will rule against the unions in Friedrichs.”
That depends on whether Harris would encourage the court to take a broader view in Friedrichs.
“At first glance (Harris) appears to be a narrow ruling that clearly separates this specific case from the broader issue of agency fees for traditional public sector workers,” Frank Wells, a spokesman for CTA, told LA School Report.
“Although we are disappointed in the ruling, we believe we are on solid ground with Friedrichs, and the Court has already upheld the reasonable requirement that non-union members pay their fair share for the collective bargaining and other representation to which they are legally entitled and which the unions must provide.”
In California, union teachers can opt out of contributing for political advocacy, which unions say is critical for competing against corporate interests.
In the Harris dissent, Justice Elena Kagan cited a 1977 case in which the Court ruled that a government entity can require employees to pay “a fair share” of the cost a union incurs negotiating for better terms of employment.
She wrote: “A joint employer remains an employer, and here, as I have noted, Illinois kept authority over all workforce-wide terms of employment — the very issues most likely to be the subject of collective bargaining. The State thus should also retain the prerogative — as part of its effort to ‘ensure efficient and effective delivery of personal care services’—to require all employees to contribute fairly to their bargaining agent.”