SCOTUS Ruling Against Unions Could Have Gone Much Further

While the Harris v. Quinn decision was seen as a defeat for public sector unions, there had been fears the court would do much more damage.

SCOTUS Ruling Against Unions Could Have Gone Much Further
Flickr / Walley Gobetz

Monday's Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn made what could have been a crushing blow to labor unions into nothing more than a bruise.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled home health care workers in Illinois can not be forced to pay dues to public employee unions. (Via Flickr / Wally Gobetz)

Union supporters had feared the judges would strike down a decades-old legal precedent, stating that if the majority of workers decided to unionize, public employees can be required to pay union fees. (Via Businessweek)

But the judges sidestepped that issue by ruling that the home health aids bringing the suit were not "full-pledged public employees." (Via Supreme Court of the United States)

"They are home health care workers. They are sort of independent contractors. They are sort of government employees. So the decision is really just limited to these home health care workers." (Via CNN)

Pam Harris, the lead plaintiff in the case, is one such person who receives Medicaid funding to take care of her mentally and physically disabled son in her home. (Via Fox News)

An executive order signed by Illinois' governor in 2003 made home health care workers, such as Harris, state employees, which would require her to join the Service Employees International Union. (Via Flickr / Chris Eaves)

That meant she would have to pay union dues and her home would be considered a union shop because it's where she provides care for her son. (Via Washington Examiner)

‚Äč"Our objective was to remove the threat of unionization in the family home and to preserve the relationship of a mom or a dad caring for their disabled adult child." (Via Fox News)

But a writer for The Economist says it could have been much worse for the unions. If the court had overturned the earlier ruling, "That could have severely hurt public-sector unions, as it could have allowed all state employees to enjoy union-negotiated pay deals without shouldering any share of the cost of collective bargaining."

Still, the losing side isn't thrilled with the ruling. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told Politico this will "make it significantly harder for these dedicated employees to get a fair shake in exchange for their hard work." And a writer for Slate says the ruling lays the groundwork for weaker public unions and declining patient care.

But for now the decision is relatively narrow in scope, though it leaves the door open for future decisions that may make more drastic changes.