Although most of the national press focused yesterday on the Supreme Court's ruling on religious conviction in the Hobby Lobby case, the court's other landmark decision in Harris v. Quinn is also likely to have a far-reaching impact — specifically, weakening the grip organized labor has on healthcare providers.
In previewing possible court rulings on Monday morning, CBS News legal correspondent Jan Crawford said that while Hobby Lobby was clearly the more high-profile case, a decision in the Harris case could be a sleeper in terms of labor relations. She was soon proven correct.
With the justices ruling 5-4 in Harris, they decided that states cannot force employees who are participants in government programs to unionize or force them to pay union dues if they object to doing so.
In so doing, the high court struck down an Illinois law forcing Chicago-area home healthcare provider Pamela Harris to join a union on the grounds that it violated her First Amendment rights. Mrs. Harris had received state assistance in her role as home-care provider for her disabled son.
"The Supreme Court Just Dealt a Devastating Blow to Public Unions," blared the headline in the lead story of the National Journal soon after the ruling from the high court came down.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, William Messenger, staff attorney for the National Right to Work Foundation since 2001 and the lawyer who argued the Harris case before the Supreme Court, said "this is the latest in a series of cases beginning with the 'Abood' ruling in the 1970s that have severely limited the heavy-handed unionization schemes that are on the books in many states."
Messenger pointed out that two specific groups that were the targets of such "unionization schemes" are now protected.
"The first group are personal-care providers," he told Newsmax, "who provide home personal care to disabled, chronically ill, or elderly individuals whose care is paid for by state self-directed home- and community-based service [HCBS] programs under Medicaid."
"The second group are childcare providers, who provide home child [day-care] services to parents whose childcare expenses are subsidized by state programs established under the federal Child Care and Development Fund [CCDF]."
In taking care of her son, Harris fell into the first category. Balking at find that her expenses, subsidized by a state program, made her a target for forced unionization, she contacted the National Right to Work Foundation. As it does in all cases, the foundation provided free legal aid. Her suit was filed in April 2010 and eventually eight plaintiffs joined her.
The impact of the case is now likely to be felt by unions at the state level. As the "Harris" brief to the Supreme Court noted, "To date, eighteen (18) states have authorized mandatory [union] representation for home childcare providers and fourteen (14) permit or permitted the exaction of compulsory fees."
"When Republicans took over the governorships and state legislatures in Ohio and Michigan, the unionization schemes for health and child care workers in those states went away," Messenger told us, "and now in other states, similar schemes are going to come under fire in court because they are in violation of the 'Harris' decision.
"And if the states don't change their laws to conform to 'Harris,' they face having to pay damages to the workers and attorneys fees out of state funds."
He added that the National Right to Work Foundation is "already active in cases against those laws in three states and is sure to be active in more."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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