The U.S. Supreme Court will hear perhaps the most important First Amendment case this week in years, challenging labor unions’ in their practice of forced dues collection from all workers, including those who object to the union.
Eric Rhein, First Amendment lawyer in Illinois who brought this to my attention – contends that the case is critical to the issue of forced, controlled speech and contributing to organizations many workers don’t believe in. It originated with Chicago-area in-home care providers and the decision could end up dealing a major blow to public-sector labor unions:
Hat tip: Chicago Tribune (and attorney Eric Rhein)
Illinois, California, Maryland, Connecticut and other states have long used Medicaid funds to pay salaries for in-home care workers to assist disabled adults who otherwise might have to be put in state institutions. The jobs were poorly paid and turnover was high.
Over the last decade, more than 20,000 of these workers in Illinois voted to organize and won wage increases by joining the Service Employees International Union.
But the National Right to Work Foundation, an anti-union advocacy group, sued Gov. Pat Quinn and the SEIU, accusing the state and union of conspiring to relabel private care providers as state employees so they could collect more union fees.
“This scheme is nothing more than pure political payback,” said Patrick Semmens, a director of the group, complaining that unions have helped fund Quinn’s campaign.
They are also challenging whether workers who don’t want to participate in the union should be forced to pay dues, a longtime union practice known as “fair share” fees. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several mothers who take care of their disabled adult children at home and resent the idea of paying about $50 a month in union dues.
A federal judge in Chicago and the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the suit, citing Supreme Court precedents dating to 1977 that allow unions representing teachers and other public employees to collect fees from all workers, including those who object to the union.
But the Supreme Court may be ready to reconsider those precedents, and some predict that justices will use the Chicago case to do so.
Two years ago, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote an opinion that rebuked the SEIU in a California case and said the union had wrongly collected special dues from all employees to pay for political ads. The SEIU said it intended to give refunds later to nonmembers of the union.
But Alito’s opinion went beyond the dispute over political funds and cast doubt on whether unions should continue to be able to force public employees to pay union fees even if they don’t want to. The 1st Amendment generally protects Americans from being forced by the government to join groups or pay for causes they oppose, he said.
“Compulsory fees constitute a form of compelled speech and association that imposes a significant impingement on 1st Amendment rights,” he wrote, joined by four fellow conservatives. “Our cases have tolerated” these forced fees for public employees in the past, and “we do not revisit [them] today.”
Read this again because it’s important: “The 1st Amendment generally protects Americans from being forced by the government to join groups or pay for causes they oppose..” But what it doesn’t say is how Amendments such as the Fourth, Second, Tenth and now the Right to Free Speech are being diluted and denied by our government before our very eyes. So this is a case to keep your eyes on.