The recent case Harris v. Quinn, decided by the Supreme Court this June, received a lot of attention.  The case involved home health care workers in Illinois.  These workers were deemed by state law to be partial public employees of the state (for purposes of public labor law).  These employees are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which had negotiated what is known as an agency shop provision into their collective bargaining agreement.  Under an agency shop provision, employees who do not join the union still must pay an "agency fee" to the union.  Three of these home health care workers objected to paying the dues, claiming their First Amendment rights were being violated because they were forced to support the union.

The Court's decision heavily criticized the Court's prior decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977).  In Abood, the Court held that public employees who choose not to join a public-sector union may nevertheless be compelled to pay an agency fee to support union work that is related to collective-bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustments, but not for the union's political or ideological purposes.  But the Court did not ultimately overturn Abood.

The ruling issued by the Court was very narrow in its scope.  The Court said the employees in question here were not full-fledged public employees, but rather quasi-public employees.  As to these particular employees, the Court found that the rationales supporting the constitutionality of agency fees were not applicable because the State of Illinois requires that they all receive the same pay rate and the union has no authority to represent a personal assistant in a grievance against a customer.  The Court did not find that all agency shop fees were unconstitutional for full-fledged public employees.

The case focused only on employees in the public sector and the decision was fairly limited in its scope, applying to these quasi-public employees who are paid with government funds but who operate outside direct government supervision.  There is no immediate impact on unions in the private sector.

Harris v. Quinn (2014) 573 U.S. ___ (2014)