By Matthew Rothschild on June 30, 2014

 

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court issued an odd ruling in the biggest labor union case in years, Harris v. Quinn.

The conservative majority, ruled 5-4, that personal assistants in publicly funded Illinois home health-care, who are represented by the SEIU, do not have to pay their fair share of union dues if they choose not to be members.

So it was a blow to organized labor.

But it wasn’t as big a blow as it could have been, as Justice Elena Kagan noted in her dissenting opinion.

“One aspect of today’s opinion is cause for satisfaction, though hardly applause,” she wrote. While the conservative majority disparaged a 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education, that set the precedent in this case, it did not overturn that decision.

“That is to the good—or at least better than it might be,” Kagan said. “The Abood rule is deeply entrenched, and is the foundation for not tens or hundreds, but thousands of contracts between unions and governments across the nation.”

The majority’s decision, written by Samuel Alito, suggests that several of the conservative justices wanted to toss out Abood, which would have resulted, Kagan said, in “imposing a right-to-work regime for all government employees.”

But the majority instead made a narrow ruling. It took pains to draw a distinction between the personal assistants in Illinois, who “are almost entirely answerable to the customers and not to the state, as opposed to what it called “full-fledged” public employees. It ruled that those personal assistants did not have to pay fees to the union.

The case revolves around the “free-rider problem” that unions have had to deal with for a long time: people in the organized shop who choose not to belong to the union can still reap its rewards in higher pay and better benefits.

In the Abood case, the court ruled that that such people needed to pay an agency fee to cover the union’s work on their behalf, though not the union’s expenditures on political or ideological causes.

The logic of Alito’s decision expressed hostility to such an agency fee, not only for “full-fledged” public sector workers but for all workers.

“The agency-fee provision cannot be sustained,” he wrote, “unless the cited benefits for personal assistants could not have been achieved if the union had been required to depend for funding on the dues paid by those personal assistants who chose to join. No such showing has been made.”

In the future, unions in the private and public sector may, in some cases, be hard-pressed to show this, so employers may seize on this passage to further erode union rights.

And Alito also made a First Amendment argument that cast a shadow over the right of all unions to collect agency fees from nonunion members.

“Agency-fee provisions unquestionably impose a heavy burden on the First Amendment interests of objecting employees,” he wrote for the majority. “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.”

But for some reason, he and his conservative colleagues stepped back from what Kagan called the “radical” move to overturn almost four decades of labor law. And so the union shop lives.

 

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Comments

This court has sided with corporations in every decision.Scalia and Thomas even go to Koch brothers sponsored retreats on their dime,and refuse to recuse themselves.Trouble for unions ahead with this corporate owned court.
How do I apply to the companies I own stock in....to opt out of their political, ideological or speech expenses?

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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