- Professor J. Brian O'Roark, Robert Morris University
- Professor Antony Davies, Duquesne Law
On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Harris v. Quinn. The central question in this case concerned whether a state can, consistent with the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, compel in-home care providers paid for through Medicare, also known as “personal assistants” or “PAs,” to financially support a union to be their exclusive representative with respect to employment-related collective bargaining.
In an opinion delivered by Justice Alito, the Court held by a vote of 5-4 that the First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from PAs who do not want to join or support the union. Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas joined the opinion of the Court. Justice Kagan wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. The decision of the Seventh Circuit was reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded.
To discuss the case, we have Andrew Grossman who is an Associate at Baker & Hostetler LLP and Adjunct Scholar at the Cato Institute.
Is Harris v. Quinn a landmark in labor law? The case asked the Court to decide whether the First Amendment bars Illinois from compelling personal homecare providers to accept and financially support a private organization as their exclusive representative to petition the state for greater reimbursements from its Medicaid programs.
Viewed narrowly, Harris is a challenge to the organization of home-care workers, asking the Court to clarify whether a state's interest in maintaining "labor peace" -- the justification for allowing government to burden workers' First Amendment rights by requiring them to associate with and support a labor union -- is sufficient in these circumstances.
But Harris also asked whether a state ever has an interest sufficiently compelling to require its own workers to speak to it through the intermediary of a labor union. It was only in 1977, in a case called Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that the Supreme Court held that "labor peace" justifies this imposition on government employees' First Amendment rights. The Harris petitioners contend that Abood was wrongly decided and that governments never have any sufficiently compelling interest to compel their workers to support a labor union. Does the majority opinion's language on Abood signal the Court is ready to reverse it when the right case presents itself?