Harris v. Quinn: Unions and Politicians Beware!

Contributed by Larry Smith

In 2003, then Governor, now inmate, Rod Blagojevich, issued an Executive Order declaring that 20,000 rehabilitation home health care aides paid through Medicaid were employees of the State of Illinois.  The workers, including plaintiff Pam Harris, were actually hired by individual Medicaid recipients and did not receive payment from the State of Illinois.  Prior to the Executive Order, Illinois law treated these healthcare workers as employees of the Medicaid patients.

As state employees, the workers could unionize. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) unionized the workers.  SEIU also designates that part of the union dues goes to “political causes.”  Pam Harris’ suit alleges that this support of “political causes” violates freedom of speech and due process.

On October 1, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to rule on the case of Harris v. Quinn after the District Court dismissed the plaintiff’s Complaint and the Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal.

In the Seventh Circuit’s dismissal, it stated that: “as the personal assistants are employees of the state, at least in those respects relevant to collective bargaining, the union’s collection and use of fair share fees is permitted by the Supreme Court’s mandatory union fee jurisprudence.”

Unions, and the politicians they contribute to, are justifiably worried about the outcome in Harris, since the Supreme Court recently used the First Amendment to take a pro‑business stance in another public sector union case (Knox v. SEIU).

For those further interested, a similar case is pending in Minnesota (Parrish v. Dayton).  The Minnesota case involves an attempt to unionize childcare workers. 

Stay tuned for further developments.  It will be interesting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court continues to diminish the unions’ political clout.