Sasha Volokh has a new article on Reason.org analyzing the U.S. Supreme Court's decision today in Harris v. Quinn regarding mandatory public employee union contributions. Volokh finds that while the opinion's bare holding is fairly narrow, it may foreshadow a possible future overruling of the 1977 decision that originally allowed unions to take compulsory dues from non-members for non-political purposes.
Here's an excerpt:
On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Harris v. Quinn. Pamela Harris and several others are “personal assistants” under the Rehabilitation Program or Disabilities Program—two programs, funded by federal Medicaid funds administered by the state of Illinois, that pay for in-home services for people with disabilities. The purpose of the program is to prevent people from having to go into a nursing home if they don’t need do; many personal assistants—including Harris herself—provide services at home for disabled family members.
Under the terms of the program, a personal assistant is formally an “employee” of the disabled person. Disabled persons (defined as “customers” in the law) choose their own assistants, determine the scope of services to be delivered, and can dismiss their assistants if they so desire. The state’s role is to set some basic employment qualifications, mandate an annual performance review by the customer, and mediate conflicts between customers and assistants—and, most importantly, to pay the personal assistant an amount comparable to what the relevant services would cost in an institution.
In light of the state’s minimal control over personal assistants, the Illinois State Labor Relations Board held in 1985 that personal assistants weren’t state employees. But Governor Rod Blagojevich reversed the result by executive order in 2003, and the Illinois legislature codified that soon afterwards. Now personal assistants are considered “public employees”—but “[s]olely for the purposes of coverage under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act.” SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana was designed as the personal assistants’ exclusive collective bargaining representative, and pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement with Illinois, personal assistants who didn’t join the union still had to pay a “fair share” of the union dues to cover collective-bargaining expenses. (This share is automatically deducted from the Medicare money that personal assistants get from the state.)
Harris and others challenged the fair-share provision under the First Amendment, charging that they shouldn’t be required to pay a fee to a union they don’t support.
The Supreme Court agreed, in an opinion (written by Justice Alito) that, by its terms, only applies to personal assistants. So the bare holding of the opinion is fairly narrow. But the opinion may be more important than its bare holding, to the extent that it portends a possible future overruling of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the 1977 decision that allowed compulsory dues to public-employee unions for non-political purposes. To see how the Court got to this result, it’s important to understand a few earlier opinions.