Recent Developments in the Courts - Harris v. Quinn: The Future of Mandatory Agency Fees
november 19, 2014
The United States Supreme Court in Harris v. Quinn struck down an Illinois law requiring in-home caregivers paid through Medicaid to pay agency fees to the unions representing them. Harris v. Quinn, 134 S. Ct. 2618 (2014). The Court held that requiring in-home caregivers, who are considered only partial public employees, to financially support union activities which they do not participate in or support, violated the in-home caregivers' First Amendment right to free expression and association.
The Court distinguished its prior decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education which held that public employees who opted out of union association may still be compelled to pay an agency fee to support union activities that benefit all workers. Harris, 134 S. Ct.at 2634-5; Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Educ., 431 U.S. 209 (1997). The Court in Harris found that in-home caregivers are not considered full-fledged public employees, and therefore Abood was not controlling in this case.
The Court reasoned that the caregivers answer to their individual supervisor and not the state, even though the state of Illinois provided the in-home caregivers' wages. In addition, the Court noted that caregivers do not enjoy the same rights and protections from the union as do state employees.
Ultimately, the Court concluded that none of the interests asserted by the state of Illinois are furthered by requiring an agency fee. Accordingly, the Court found that the state of Illinois had no justification for impinging on the First Amendment rights of the caregivers. Although the Court expressed strong discomfort with agency-fee provisions, the Court declined to overrule Abood.
The decision in Harris signifies a change in how similarly situated public employees may challenge mandatory agency fees. It also supports future challenges to the Abood decision, which could prevent public employee unions from collecting agency fees from non-members, including fees that support activities directly concerning non-members.