Supreme Court Levels Blow at Unions, 10th Amendment

By:  Thomas R. Eddlem
Supreme Court Levels Blow at Unions, 10th Amendment

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to unions and yet another blow to the Tenth Amendment in the 5-4 decision of Harris v. Quinn.

The June 30 decision struck down an Illinois state mandate that home-care “personal assistant” workers for the temporarily disabled pay the labor union “agency fees” for collective bargaining purposes even if they are not union members. 

The five justices appointed by Republican presidents ruled that “The First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from Rehabilitation Program [personal assistants] who do not want to join or support the union.” Personal assistants are persons who help disabled people in need of assistance who, without that assistance, would require institutionalization. Personal assistants perform non-medical household tasks for those permanently disabled, or those on temporary rehabilitative programs, and the "personal assistants" of the disabled are often family members.

The Illinois state manual on personal assistants tells the disabled that “you are the employer” to the recipient of the care, though it also states that “the State reserves the right to condition any future funding based on credible allegations concerning your welfare or safety.” State law regarded the disabled as the employers in every legal sense until 2003.

Personal assistants voted to unionize after former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (who was later convicted of bribery charges and impeached on unrelated charges) issued an executive order in 2003 to consider personal assistants state employees for the purposes of collective bargaining. The legislature placed its imprimatur on the executive order with legislation a few months later.

The executive order was a political favor to the Democratic Party's most vocal union voice, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The SEIU has already donated more than $4 million to Democratic candidates in the current election cycle. The court estimated that the SEIU takes in $3.6 million annually from more than 20,000 personal home-care assistants in Illinois alone, amounting to as much as $180 in dues per person annually. The SEIU is among the most politically active left-wing unions, but the Harris decision was not at all about dues going to political activity — not that one could tell from the opinion of the court.

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