Supreme Court Leaves Millions Under Big Labor’s Thumb

Supreme Court

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court Harris v. Quinn ruling leaves millions of teachers and other government workers forced to pay union “fair share” fees as a condition of employment.

In Harris v. Quinn, eight home healthcare providers sued the governor of Illinois over an executive order allowing Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to skim mandatory fees from their Medicaid payments.

During oral arguments in the Harris case, Supreme Court justices repeatedly steered the discussion to the idea of reversing the 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education,” Jack Spencer noted at Michigan Capitol Confidential earlier this month.

“That ruling established that a union shop, which is legal in the private sector, was also legal in the public sector,” Spencer explained.

In a union shop — which remains legal in 26 states — workers who decline to join the union can be fired for refusing to pay a “fair share” fee determined by union bosses.

The union shop rule empowers labor bosses to take money from workers who disagree with the union’s practices or politics. When Michigan put a stop to an SEIU dues skim like the one in Illinois, SEIU Healthcare Michigan lost 80 percent of its members.

“Because 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 Court ruled in its 5-4 Harris v. Quinn decision.

Justice Samuel Alito sharply criticized the Abood precedent, which the Court has left intact, in the majority opinion.

Abood failed to appreciate the difference between the core union speech involuntarily subsidized by dissenting public-sector employees and the core union speech involuntarily funded by their counterparts in the private sector,” Alito wrote. “In the public sector, core issues such as wages, pensions, and benefits are important political issues, but that is generally not so in the private sector.”

“In the years since Abood, as state and local expenditures on employee wages and benefits have mushroomed, the importance of the difference between bargaining in the public and private sectors has been driven home,” he continued.

Abood failed to appreciate the conceptual difficulty of distinguishing in public-sector cases between union expenditures that are made for collective-bargaining purposes and those that are made to achieve political ends.”

Alito also opined that Abood “did not foresee the practical problems that would face objecting nonmembers,” and that “a critical pillar of the Abood Court’s analysis rests on an unsupported empirical assumption, namely, that the principle of exclusive representation in the public sector is dependent on a union or agency shop.”

Propelled by their ability to back big-government politicians and take forced dues from workers whose only option is to find another job, public-sector unions have become the nation’s most powerful leftist groups.

National Education Association (NEA), SEIU, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) are the four largest labor unions in the country.

NEA has 3 million members, SEIU has 1.8 million, AFT has 1.5 million, and AFSCME has 1.3 million; NEA and AFT’s numbers are inflated by the fact that several state affiliates belong to both national unions.

Plaintiffs in the Harris case — and individuals like them in other forced unionism states — are now protected from SEIU’s dues-skimming, but SEIU, NEA, AFT, and AFSCME still stomp on the First Amendment rights of millions of public employees.

Based on unions’ latest reported membership, the 10 largest NEA, SEIU, AFT, and AFSCME affiliates in states without worker freedom laws are:

  • New York State United Teachers: 596,957 members
  • SEIU California: 505,507 members
  • 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers East: 347,073 members
  • California Teachers Association: ~325,000 members
  • New York Civil Service Employees Association: 240,128 members
  • Pennsylvania State Education Association: 180,975 members
  • Illinois Education Association: 133,158 members
  • California Federation of Teachers: ~120,000 members
  • Ohio Education Association: 119,818 members
  • 32BJ SEIU: 114,585 members

These 10 state and district council unions combined have more than 2.6 million members, most of whom work in the public sector.

[Editor’s note, 06/30/2014: Added California Federation of Teachers to the list, based on the membership reported on the union’s website.]