Labor Update: Harris v. Quinn

Labor Movement

Labor Movement

Organized labor has a voice in Iowa politics, but not the power it once had to move its agenda. Looking back at Nate Willems’ March 30, 2007 article from Prairie Progressive, and the Iowa Fair Share debate, he wrote, “the battle for Fair Share in Iowa is the front line of not just the fight for better paying jobs, or for a stronger Democratic Party.  It is the fight to rekindle a progressive brand of politics that has been missing for far too long.” That fight was lost and it changed how labor union leadership viewed their relationship with the Iowa Democratic Party.

It is exactly the type of political advocacy Willems wrote about in 2007 that may be at stake in Harris v. Quinn, a U.S. Supreme Court case expected to be decided before the court ends their current session later this month. The case is about a group of public sector workers who object to paying a fair share of the expense a union has in representing them at a workplace. The court seems poised to make a decision that has broad implications for public sector unions. To better understand the case, read Lyle Denniston’s argument recap on SCOTUSblog here.

“The case threatens the existence of the ‘agency shop,’ a bedrock institution in American labor relations—one relied on in the most successful recent union organizing, and that is decisive to the health of public sector unions,” wrote Joel Rogers in the April 14 issue of The Nation. Rogers explained:

In American labor law, a union wins the right to be the exclusive collective bargaining representative for workers in a particular unit by demonstrating its support by a majority of the workers in the unit. But the law also imposes a duty with this right. The union must represent all workers, union members and nonunion employees alike, when it negotiates and administers collective bargaining agreements. Thus it is theoretically possible for nonunion employees to capture the benefits of collective bargaining won by their union colleagues (often at considerable expense) but pay nothing for it.

Depending upon how the court decides Harris v. Quinn, this entire paradigm—established in another SCOTUS case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education—could go out the window. The U.S. Congress currently has little ability to change a court decision.

Oral arguments were heard in January, and Harris v. Quinn is one to watch this month for a summer surprise. In the meanwhile, read Rogers’ entire article here.

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1 Response to Labor Update: Harris v. Quinn

  1. Paul Deaton says:

    On June 30, 2014 SCOTUS released their ruling on Harris v. Quinn. “Justice Alito wrote that home-care aides who typically work for an ill or disabled person, with Medicaid paying their wages, should be classified as partial public employees and should not be treated the same way as public schoolteachers or police officers who work directly for the government.” The court upheld Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Read the New York Times coverage here.
    Some bad news for labor, but not a death blow for Fair Share.


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