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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Harris v. Quinn: Republican Supremes Boost Economic Inequality

The Hobby Lobby decision will likely go down in the annals of political mistakes as one of the most poorly-reasoned high court rulings of the last century, and it should be condemned for it’s assault on worker rights, as well as reproductive rights. But it did overshadow another disastrous Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn, which the New York Times op-ed by Cynthia Eastlund and William E. Fortbath describes as a “salvo on unions” in “the war on workers.” Further, opine the authors:

…Though its decision in Harris v. Quinn was narrow, saying that, in some cases, unions could not collect fees from one particular class of public employees who did not want to join, its language suggests that this may be the court’s first step toward nationalizing the “right to work” gospel by embedding it in constitutional law.
The petitioners in Harris were several home-care workers who did not want to join a union, though a majority of their co-workers had voted in favor of joining one. Under Illinois law, they were still required to contribute their “fair share” to the costs of representation — a provision, known as an “agency fee,” that is prohibited in “right to work” states.
The ability of unions to collect an agency fee reflects a constitutional balance that has governed American labor for some 40 years: Workers can’t be forced to join a union or contribute to its political and ideological activities, but they can be required to pay for the cost of the union’s collective bargaining and contract-administration activities.
The majority in Harris saw things differently. Making workers pay anything to a union they oppose is in tension with their First Amendment rights — “something of an anomaly,” in the words of the majority. But the real anomaly lies in according dissenters a right to refuse to pay for the union’s services — services that cost money to deliver, and that put money in the pockets of all employees.
Once selected by a majority of workers in a bargaining unit, a union becomes the exclusive representative, with a duty to fairly represent all of them. That is the bedrock of our public and private sector labor laws.

The decision cements the current Supreme Court majority’s rep as the most anti-labor high court justices in memory of just about anyone still alive. That’s just fine with them. Worker rights are not anywhere near their collective radar screen. Anything to weaken unions — and undermine working peoples’ living standards — is OK with them. They are in-yer-face one-percenters, smug and comfy in their untouchable perches.
For Democrats, it’s another sobering reminder of the folly of giving Supreme Court nominees a pass on their economic ideology. Most of the confirmation battles in the post-war period have centered around nominees’ ethical issues or positions on racial discrimination, reproductive rights and social issues, all important concerns.
But the current majority has given a green light to ‘free riders,’ who want to benefit from union contracts without paying any union dues. The decision is aimed at destroying unions, even though they know it will exacerbate widening economic inequality. From now on Democrats ought to refuse to give any Supreme Court nominees a free ride on their economic philosophy and “Bork” any anti-union nominees without reservation.

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