Should people be free to choose what organizations they give money to? The First Amendment says they should, and the nation’s highest court agrees.
The Supreme Court upheld the right to freedom of association for a group of Illinoisans with its decision in Harris v. Quinn this summer.
The lead plaintiff in the case was Pam Harris, a suburban Chicago mom who receives a modest Medicaid subsidy to care for her disabled son in her home. Gov. Pat Quinn tried to unionize the 4,500 people in Pam’s program in 2009, and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich successfully unionized 20,000 home-care providers in a similar program in 2003. As a result, many families were forced to pay dues to a union they disagreed with and did not choose to join.
Pam, along with families in both programs, fought back with a federal lawsuit. They wanted their money to go toward supporting their loved ones’ care, not a union’s agenda.
In its decision, the Supreme Court rightly agreed with Pam and the other families. The court ruled that forcing people like her to support a union just because they receive a subsidy violates their First Amendment rights.
Fortunately for these families and the First Amendment, the court ruled that lllinois’ scheme was unconstitutional because it made families pay to promote a private organization’s political and ideological beliefs. The court ruled that this was unconstitutional even if the fees were only used to pay for a union’s collective bargaining. After all, when public- sector unions bargain, they essentially lobby the government about what it should do.
No matter what your view of unions, it should be easy to see why this scheme was wrong.
Now Illinois and other states are having to face that fact. Although the Harris v. Quinn decision only applies directly to Illinois home-care providers, states are already applying it more broadly. Illinois recently announced that it would stop forcing 50,000 home day-care operators to pay union fees. Several other states have stopped taking money from home-care providers, and more are sure to follow.
The Harris v. Quinn decision hinged on the fact that home-care providers like Pam aren’t state employees. Older decisions, which the Supreme Court criticized but didn’t overturn, say that a state can force actual government employees to pay union fees.
But that doesn’t make much sense. Why shouldn’t government employees have the same rights as everyone else? Their fees are being used to pay for inherently political and ideological speech against their will, too.
And what about private-sector employees? Legal and technical particulars might be somewhat different for them, but the moral principle is still the same: People shouldn’t be forced to give money to a private organization they didn’t choose to join and that they disagree with.
Respecting workers’ freedom isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also popular, even in places you might not expect. A new poll conducted by Google Consumer Surveys and commissioned by the Nevada Policy Research Institute found that 83.5 percent of Illinois residents believe workers should have the right to decide whether to join or leave a union.
Last year, another poll taken by the same organizations found that 30.4 percent of Illinois union households, and 33 percent of union households nationwide, would leave their union if they could do so without penalty. That’s a lot of people being forced to associate with a union they might not agree with.
In Harris v. Quinn, the court hinted that it might someday protect the rights of everyone who’s forced to pay for a public-sector union. But people shouldn’t have to wait until then for relief. States like Illinois that don’t already have right-to-work laws can help them right now by passing legislation allowing all workers to decide for themselves whether a union deserves their support.
Harris v. Quinn is giving tens of thousands of Illinoisans something to celebrate this year. Let’s hope millions of others across the country can join them in the years ahead.
Jacob Huebert is the senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, which filed an amicus brief in Harris v. Quinn and worked with Illinois day-care providers to stop the deduction of mandatory union dues and fees from their benefit checks.