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U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Union Fee Rules

On Monday, June 30, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision in Harris et al. v. Quinn et al., striking down Illinois public-sector “fair share” policies that required home healthcare providers for Medicaid recipients to pay union fees. The Court held that the home healthcare providers were only partial public employees and therefore did not have to pay “fair share” or “agency” fees to the union representing them. The home healthcare providers originally challenged the policies because they believed the policies infringed on their First Amendment rights by “forcing them into speech they did not necessarily agree with.”

The Court declined the opportunity to overrule its 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision, where it held that public employers could require all employees, whether union members or not, to pay union fees, except for those fees that covered ideological activities.

Justice Alito, writing for the majority, stated, “[b]ecause of Abood’s questionable foundations, and because the personal assistants are quite different from full-fledged public employees, we refuse to extend Abood to the new situation now before us[.]”

The dissent, led by Justice Kagan, felt the majority misapplied the Abood ruling, alternatively stating that the home healthcare providers could be joint employees of the state and the patients they cared for, bringing them “squarely” within the Abood ruling. Justice Kagan wrote, “[f]or some 40 years, Abood has struck a stable balance – consistent with this court’s general framework for assessing public employees’ First Amendment claims – between those employees’ rights and government entities’ interests in managing their workforces.”

What does this mean for employers?

The Abood decision remains intact, meaning public employers can still require full-fledged public employees to pay certain union fees. The home healthcare providers in Harris can remain unionized, but the State of Illinois cannot require these providers to pay “fair share” or “agency” fees to the union if they choose not to join. Additionally, the Harris decision could open the door for further challenges to the reaches of Abood. Employers should evaluate whether today’s decision impacts their organization and what changes they may need to implement if applicable.



About this Author

Robert Mulcahy, Michael Best Law Firm, Private and Public Sector Labor and Employment Attorney

Rob is a skilled negotiator whose practice includes both public and private sector management labor and employment law. His work includes National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) proceedings, collective bargaining, contract administration and arbitration proceedings.

Rob also has extensive experience working on employment discrimination matters and wage and hour claims. He helps clients tackle tough issues, including:

  • Union elections and right to work

  • Severance agreements...

Brian Paul, Michael Best Law Firm, Labor and Employment Attorney

Brian brings strategic business vision to his work representing companies engaged in employment-related disputes, both in state and federal courts and before administrative agencies. The focus of Brian’s practice is to deliver positive outcomes in litigation matters, including:

  • Class action discrimination

  • Wage and hour collective actions

  • Harassment and discrimination claims

  • Wrongful termination

  • Disability accommodations

  • Theft of trade secrets

  • Enforcement of restrictive covenants

Daniel Kaufman, Michael Best, trade secret protection attorney, higher education lawyer,

Clients turn to Dan because he is an outstanding litigator and a trusted advisor on employment issues. His deep knowledge of employment law, exceptional judgment, and strategic advice enable clients to achieve their goals.

Businesses, colleges and universities, municipalities, and other clients rely on Dan’s proven litigation experience and proactive counsel on a broad range of issues, including:

  • Discrimination and harassment suits

  • Non-compete, non-solicitation, and...