Court Rules Against Public Sector Unions in Quinn v. Harris

SCOTUS rules unions cannot collect dues from family members caring for sick relatives

June 30, 2014

The Supreme Court ruled Monday in Harris v. Quinn that politicians can no longer force family members caring for disabled relatives into public sector unions.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court found the state of Illinois violated the constitution when imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich agreed to funnel a portion of home healthcare worker checks to political allies SEIU and AFSCME. The unions collected more than $50 million from about 20,000 such people over a five-year period.

The decision, authored by Samuel Alito, did not completely limit the ability of public sector unions to collect dues from employees who do not want to join unions. However, the court recognized a category of "partial public employees" and ruled that fees cannot be forcefully extracted from these people.

"PAs are much different from public employees," Alito's decision read. "Unlike full-fledged public employees, PAs are almost entirely answerable to the customers and not to the State, do not enjoy most of the rights and benefits that inure to state employees, and are not indemnified by the State for claims against them arising from actions taken during the course of their employment."

The court did not overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a 1977 ruling that allowed public sector unions to compel dues from non-members.

Pamela Harris, a 55-year-old mother who serves as a personal assistant to her severely disabled son, Josh, sued the state after discovering that the SEIU was taking money from her monthly Medicaid check.

"One penny, one dollar taken out of [the monthly stipend] is taken out of support or services for Josh," she told the Washington Free Beacon on the eve of oral arguments in January. "Being in a union is incompatible, intrusive, and going to interfere with the care I provide. The union is there to protect the union worker, so I don’t see how Josh benefits."

Other mothers agreed that the policy was a scheme developed to siphon money from Medicaid beneficiaries to union organizers. Susie Watts, 57, paid SEIU about $60 per month for the privilege of caring for her physically disabled daughter, Libby.

"They’re profiting from the disabled," she told the Washington Free Beacon in January. "I’m considered a public employee solely for the purpose of paying union dues."

Illinois lawyers argued that because Harris and other home health aides receive taxpayer money, they are state employees subject to union dues. The union classification, however, does not cover other traditional union benefits, such as pension and liability coverage.

The court rejected that argument.