NC Unions Unaffected by SCOTUS Decision

scotus-home-health-careby Thad Eckard

A five-to-four Supreme Court ruling June 30 could seriously hurt public service unions.

The Court decided that compulsory service fees on behalf of labor unions violated free-speech and free-association rights of personal assistants receiving money from the state for their work.

“We celebrate knowing that Illinois moms linked arms and refused to be bullied,” said lead plaintiff Pam Harris in an immediate media release.

Union supporters also issued immediate statements in the Court’s decision.

“The decision is disappointing,” said Josh Rhodes, member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 238. Though the decision will not affect North Carolina, the union movement nationally lost ground, he said.

“What does this mean for North Carolina? It means nothing for North Carolina,” said Eric Fink, professor at Elon University School of Law.

“In North Carolina, not only are all unions incapable of collecting dues or fees from any worker who simply doesn’t want to pay anything, which is all ‘right-to-work’ really means, it is actually illegal in this state for any group of public service workers to collectively bargain at all.”

“Given that, the kind of agency fee requirement in Illinois is irrelevant here,” Fink explained.

Still, in Asheville, some public service employees, like mail carriers, firefighters, police, employees of the Social Security Administration and the Veterans Administration, are members of unions. Unions petition for more funding during budget hearings, Fink said.

In the Illinois case, Harris gets money from the state so that she can stay home and take care of her son. In 2009, Gov. Pat Quinn, D-Ill., signed an executive order classifying Harris and all other personal assistants in Illinois as state employees.

The decision gives these kinds of healthcare providers the right to work for wages bargained for them by a union without paying for that service. In Illinois, unions must bargain on behalf of all workers, even those workers who do not pay union dues.

“Since the unions in Illinois still have to represent workers, the unions are saying, ‘We deserve some pay for our job, because you get our services regardless,’” Fink said.

However, the Court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn does not seem to support a previous Supreme Court ruling, Fink said. The Borough of Duryea v. Guarnieri decision in 2011 established limits to an employee’s right to free speech, and that case involved a unionized, public-sector worker, he said.

“The court found that Guarnieri did not have the right to petition the government to redress his grievance, because his grievance wasn’t something that affected the general public,” Fink said. “In Harris v. Quinn, we have eight people petitioning the government to redress a grievance that did not affect the general public, either.”

“There’s a real inconsistency to say that the First Amendment doesn’t protect you when you exercise your right under a union contract, but it does protect you when you exercise your right to not have a union contract,” Fink said.

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