Collective bargaining agreements sometimes include what is known as a “fair share” provision.  Fair share provisions require workers covered by a union to pay a fee for costs the union incurs by serving as the workers’ bargaining representative.  The fee applies to all workers represented by and garnering benefits of the union, including those who opted not to join.

Harris v. Quinn involves workers in Illinois who provide in-home care to disabled individuals.  The state of Illinois, through Medicaid-waiver programs, sets the wage rate for providers and pays them directly.  The state also has statutorily labeled the workers as “public employees” for the purpose of collective bargaining under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act.  As a consequence, a majority of such providers chose to be represented by SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana.  The collective bargaining agreement between the union and the state includes a fair share provision, by which all home-care providers, including non-union members, are required to pay fees related to the union’s collective-bargaining representation.

Non-union home-care providers are challenging this provision as violating the First Amendment, and are asking the Court to distinguish or overturn a decades-old precedent—Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, from 1977—which held that public employers can require all of their employees to pay union fees so long as the employees are not required to pay fees that go to supporting ideological activities.  The Seventh Circuit below has already held that these fair share fees support only legitimate, non-ideological union activities related to the union’s ability to bargain with the state.

This case is being watched as a potential for overreach.  A decision to strike down mandatory fair share fees in this case would potentially overrule Abood and deal a major blow to the ability of unions to bargain on behalf of their workers.

  • You can read more analysis of the case by Mark Schneider, general counsel for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers on AFJ’s Justice Watch Blog