June 30, 2014

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Statement by UUP President Fred Kowal on Harris v. Quinn ruling


On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Harris v. Quinn, a long-awaited case that could have gutted unions by barring them from collecting agency fees from non-members.

The case was brought by a group of Illinois home-care workers who refused to pay their fair share of their union’s costs to represent them in collective bargaining agreements. The court ruled that the home-care workers should be considered as “partial public employees,” and not be forced to pay their fair share—known in New York as agency fee—even though they would still be represented by their union.

In essence, these home-care workers would be "free riders," contrary to the Supreme Court’s landmark 1977 case Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education, which asserted labor’s constitutional right to collect dues and collectively bargain for public workers.

UUP’s ability to represent its 35,000 members isn’t impaired by the Harris ruling, which does not apply to “full-fledged” public employees such as SUNY academics and professionals, teachers, police officers and firemen who work in the public sector.

Strong anti-union forces bankrolled and supported the case. The National Right to Work Committee Legal Defense Fund represented the home-care workers. The Legal Defense Fund is linked with the billionaire Koch brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Cato Institute, among other anti-union advocates.

“Working families across the nation have suffered another loss. The Supreme Court’s decision is another step toward stripping away the competitive pay, benefits and retirement security workers have fought for and secured through unionization.”

"The Supreme Court’s conservative majority showed its disdain for labor in Harris, and left the door wide open to future legal challenges of union rights. Justice Samuel Alito Jr. was highly critical of Abood in the majority opinion, which we expect will spark anti-union forces to test that decades-old precedent.”

“We’ve got to be politically engaged as never before. We urge all concerned citizens to support candidates who stand up for working men and women and against CEOs of the world’s largest corporations bent on destroying workers’ rights and silencing our voices.”

“Organized labor is under attack and these well-financed, well-planned legal assaults aren’t going to end anytime soon. We will not stand by and watch as anti-union factions pull and claw at organized labor, a movement at the heart of American economic stability and prosperity. It is time for unionists in UUP and across the country to join together against those forces that would delight in tearing us down.”

“Now is the time to organize and get more members actively involved in UUP to increase the union’s strength to stand up to these threats around us. UUP leaders have been working hard to engage new members and get new employees and fee payers to sign union cards.”

“We must also work tirelessly for candidates that support public education and a unionized work force in this fall’s election. This could mean volunteering to go door-to-door for NYSUT-endorsed candidates or for NYSUT phone banks. You can put up candidates’ signs on your lawn, or drive voters who need a lift to the polls. And it means registering to vote and casting your ballot in November.”

“We need every UUP member to become involved. This isn’t just a fight to protect the hard-fought gains for our members. It’s a fight to sustain union protections that lead to good wages, benefits, and safe working conditions and job sercurity for workers across the country.”

Union responses to Harris v. Quinn

The Harris v. Quinn ruling is available here.

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