The United States Supreme Court is expected to rule shortly on a case that could deal a crushing blow to unions representing public employees. The case, Harris v. Quinn, No. 12-861, concerns the lawfulness of Illinois’ statute requiring that home-based health care aides join or support financially a union designated by the state to bargain on their behalf, but its outcome could have a devastating effect on public worker unions beyond the state and home care service industry.

Harris began in July 2003, when the Illinois legislature passed a bill recognizing certain home care providers as “public employees” and designated a Midwest branch of the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) as the exclusive representative of those workers. Under the law, home care workers could join the SEIU; however, even workers who chose not to join still could be required to support the SEIU by a compulsory deduction from their paychecks, called a “fair share” fee, as a condition of being allowed to work as home care providers in Illinois.

In April 2010, a group of Illinois home care workers filed a class action lawsuit against the State of Illinois and the union arguing that requiring workers to pay union “fair share” fees as a requirement of employment violated their First Amendment rights because the state law compelled them to “accept and financially support a private organization as their exclusive representative to petition the State for greater reimbursements from its Medicaid program.” After the federal district court and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago dismissed the case, the National Right to Work Legal Foundation (NRWLF) appealed to the Supreme Court. The NRWLF asked the Court to find that its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that public sector unions can require the payment of agency fees in lieu of membership dues, so long as the charges were used to finance expenditure by the unions for collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance handling. (The NRWLF implicitly also asked that the Supreme Court to reverse the Abood in its entirety.)

The Supreme Court’s ruling could weigh heavily on the continued viability of labor unions in the public sector, which depend on compulsory financial support for their bargaining strength and political influence. Indeed, the potential losses for SEIU, which represents both public and private sector employees, may be significant. If the Court overturns Abood, public sector unions could face a nationwide right-to-work challenge, and with it, the prospect of weakened influence. (A right-to-work law guarantees that no person can be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join or not to join or to pay dues or similar exactions to a labor union as a condition of employment.)

We will update you when the Supreme Court issues its decision.

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Photo of Howard M. Bloom Howard M. Bloom

Howard M. Bloom is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has practiced labor and employment law representing exclusively employers for more than 36 years.

Mr. Bloom counsels clients in a variety of industries on labor law issues. He trains and advises executives, managers and supervisors on union awareness and positive employee relations, and assists employers in connection with union card-signing efforts, traditional union representation and corporate campaigns, and union decertification campaigns. He also represents clients at the National Labor Relations Board in connection with bargaining unit issues, objections and challenges, as well as unfair labor practice investigations and trials. Mr. Bloom also has been the spokesperson at countless first and successor contract collective bargaining negotiations, and regularly advises on collective bargaining agreement administration issues, including grievance/arbitration issues.

Mr. Bloom has appeared before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, several U.S. District Courts, the National Labor Relations Board, the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Mr. Bloom speaks frequently to employer groups on a wide range of labor and employment law topics. He also has written extensively on labor and employment law for a variety of publications, including New England Business magazine, The Boston Globe and the Boston Business Journal. He also is editor of and a frequent contributor to the Jackson Lewis Labor & Collective Bargaining Blog.

While attending law school, he was the Executive Editor of The Advocate: the Suffolk University Law School Journal and President of the Student Bar Association.

Mr. Bloom is a diehard baseball fan. His first book, The Baseball Uncyclopedia: A Highly Opinionated Myth-Busting Guide to the Great American Game, was published in February 2006.

Photo of Philip B. Rosen Philip B. Rosen

Philip B. Rosen is a Principal in the New York City office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and a member of the Firm’s Management Committee. Mr. Rosen also leads the firm’s Labor Practice Group. He joined the Firm in 1979 and served as Managing Partner of the New York City office from 1989 to 2009.

Mr. Rosen lectures extensively, conducts management training, and advises clients with respect to legislative and regulatory initiatives, corporate strategies, business ethics, social media, reorganizations and reductions-in-force, purchase/sale transactions, sexual harassment and other workplace conduct rules, compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, wrongful discharge and other workplace litigation, corporate campaigns and union organizing matters, collective bargaining, arbitration and National Labor Relations Board proceedings. He has been quoted by the press on many labor matters, including the National Labor Relations Board’s recent initiatives on protected concerted activity and the proposed Notice Posting requirements.