August 21, 2017

August 21, 2017

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Supreme Court’s Decision on Compulsory Union Fees May Have Extensive Effect

The United States Supreme Court is expected to rule shortly on a case that could deal a crushing blow to unions representing public employees. The case, Harris v. Quinn, No. 12-861, concerns the lawfulness of Illinois’ statute requiring that home-based health care aides join or support financially a union designated by the state to bargain on their behalf, but its outcome could have a devastating effect on public worker unions beyond the state and home care service industry.

Harris began in July 2003, when the Illinois legislature passed a bill recognizing certain home care providers as “public employees” and designated a Midwest branch of the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) as the exclusive representative of those workers. Under the law, home care workers could join the SEIU; however, even workers who chose not to join still could be required to support the SEIU by a compulsory deduction from their paychecks, called a “fair share” fee, as a condition of being allowed to work as home care providers in Illinois.

In April 2010, a group of Illinois home care workers filed a class action lawsuit against the State of Illinois and the union arguing that requiring workers to pay union “fair share” fees as a requirement of employment violated their First Amendment rights because the state law compelled them to “accept and financially support a private organization as their exclusive representative to petition the State for greater reimbursements from its Medicaid program.” After the federal district court and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago dismissed the case, the National Right to Work Legal Foundation (NRWLF) appealed to the Supreme Court. The NRWLF asked the Court to find that its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that public sector unions can require the payment of agency fees in lieu of membership dues, so long as the charges were used to finance expenditure by the unions for collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance handling. (The NRWLF implicitly also asked that the Supreme Court to reverse the Abood in its entirety.)

The Supreme Court’s ruling could weigh heavily on the continued viability of labor unions in the public sector, which depend on compulsory financial support for their bargaining strength and political influence. Indeed, the potential losses for SEIU, which represents both public and private sector employees, may be significant. If the Court overturns Abood, public sector unions could face a nationwide right-to-work challenge, and with it, the prospect of weakened influence. (A right-to-work law guarantees that no person can be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join or not to join or to pay dues or similar exactions to a labor union as a condition of employment.)

We will update you when the Supreme Court issues its decision.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2017


About this Author

Ramsay C. McCullough, Jackson Lewis, Affirmative Action Counseling Lawyer, Employment Discrimination Attorney

Ramsay C. McCullough is an Associate in the Norfolk, Virginia, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. His labor and employment counseling and litigation practice includes wage and hour laws, employment discrimination laws, the National Labor Relations Act, affirmative action and OFCCP counseling, white collar defense, False Claims Act and Qui Tam/Whistleblower defense, internal investigations, corporate governance and compliance issues, regulatory training, and asset recovery.

Mr. McCullough is an experienced trial attorney. He...

Howard Bloom, Jackson Lewis, labor union attorney, unfair practice investigations lawyer, employment legal counsel, bargaining law

Howard M. Bloom is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has practiced labor and employment law representing exclusively employers for more than 36 years.

Mr. Bloom counsels clients in a variety of industries on labor law issues. He trains and advises executives, managers and supervisors on union awareness and positive employee relations, and assists employers in connection with union card-signing efforts, traditional union representation and corporate campaigns, and union decertification campaigns. He also represents clients at the National Labor Relations Board in connection with bargaining unit issues, objections and challenges, as well as unfair labor practice investigations and trials. Mr. Bloom also has been the spokesperson at countless first and successor contract collective bargaining negotiations, and regularly advises on collective bargaining agreement administration issues, including grievance/arbitration issues.

Mr. Bloom has appeared before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, several U.S. District Courts, the National Labor Relations Board, the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.