Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On Harris v. Quinn, the "Fair Share" case

The Supreme Court has finally handed down its decision in Harris v. Quinn, what I in the last post, and elsewhere (page 7 of my letter from February [PDF]), have said might end fair share provisions for public employees' unions.  The decision didn't go that far and now that I've had a chance to skim it, I realize the facts of the case weren't exactly propitious to outlawing fair share.  Even accounting for court opinions' tendency to mold the facts of the case into a narrative that seems ineluctably to lead to their results, it now seems clear that the main issue was whether the employees in question--personal care providers whose wages were set by statute but who otherwise were employed mostly by their patients/clients--were actually state employees to begin with.  In other words, the decision had as much, or more, to do with whether the state could properly call any union these employees entered into a true "public union" or whether the state could call these employees truly state employees.

This case has gotten much less commentary than the other case decided yesterday, the famous Hobby Lobby suit, which ruled that "closely held" corporations can object to certain regulations on the ground that the regulations violate the owners' religious beliefs.  But its implications could be far reaching.  As at least one commentator has said, the decision could serve as an invitation to a full-fledged challenge to fair share for public employees in general. I imagine the outcome of that case, if it ever comes to be heard, will depend on which justice retires in the next few years and who gets to appoint their successors.

All of which is to say that the UICUF has dodged a bullet, but it's not in the clear.  I still urge its leaders to avoid the appeal to force in their advocacy for the organization.

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