Daniel Tilson: That other awful U.S. Supreme Court ruling

The uproar following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision targeting American women is well warranted. But another awful court decision, this one targeting American workers, got far too little attention in the process and may well have more far-reaching, damaging impact.

The good news: The June 30 Harris v. Quinn ruling in question appears to be only the opening act of a two-act melodrama. The bad news: It’s a right-wing power play that, if allowed to continue after intermission, will likely climax with a dagger dug deep in the back of public employee unions, and all of American Labor.

The bottom line is that the high court struck down the right of public employee unions, in this case the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), to collect minimal “agency fees” (union dues) from every employee it bargains for and represents, including non-members. But rather than overturn a longstanding precedent establishing the right to such mandatory dues collection, the court incredibly invented and based its ruling on a new category of “partial public employee.”

The case involved eight home health-care workers in Illinois who didn’t want to pay “fair share” fees to help the union function. That name reflects the reality that whether employees are union members or not, they still benefit from the costly, laborious work the union does to collectively bargain for higher wages, benefits, and workplace protections. So everyone is asked to pay their modest fair share of union operating costs.

The new U.S. Supreme Court ruling represents a “narrow” first step in letting public employees shift from paying their fair share, to becoming “free riders” and reaping all the benefits of union representation without helping pay the freight for providing it. Writing the 5-4 conservative majority decision, Justice Samuel Alito claimed home-care workers paid in large part by the government (through Medicare and Medicaid) were only “partial” public employees who shouldn’t be subject to the same “fair share” rules as “full-fledged” government workers, like police, teachers and firefighters.

What’s desperately in need of getting alarmed about here is that in issuing this narrow Act One ruling, the five conservative justices made clear they’re clamoring for an Act Two. That script would feature overturning the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education precedent preventing unionized public employees from becoming free riders. It doesn’t take much to figure out that such a ruling would slowly but surely rob public-sector unions of the operational funding they need to survive.

And that’s exactly the modus operandi in play by the current conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. They want to render what’s left of union power inconsequential, if not outright extinct. They know the last and largest vestige of leverage by organized labor in the United States remains in the public sector, and they know all too well that a crippling blow to public employee unions may well spell the beginning of the end for American Labor overall.

Just as with the cataclysmic 2010 Citizens United ruling establishing “corporate personhood” and codifying corporate preeminence in American elections, this effort to remove Organized Labor as a counterbalance to corporate domination of the workplace has been insidiously aided and abetted by a well-documented anti-democratic, anti-union, anti-worker coalition. You’ve heard the names before by now: ALEC, Koch Brothers, the Walton (Walmart) empire, and others, a variety of front groups helping the cause in a variety of ways.

If we, if you, don’t scream and shout loud and clear to all the powers that be, and force a rewrite of Act Two in this scary melodrama …

You’d better get rich, quick.

Daniel Tilson has a Boca Raton-based communications firm called Full Cup Media, specializing in online video and written content for non-profits, political candidates and organizations, and small businesses. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Daniel Tilson


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