Ed Feulner

In June 2009, newly elected Gov. Pat Quinn decided to sweeten the pot. He issued an executive order targeting the 4,500 providers in the mental disabilities program for unionization.

One of those providers was Pamela Harris, who tends to her 25-year-old son, Josh. Harris wanted no part of it. “There is no benefit to unionizing us,” she said. “There is no extra [Medicaid] funding to negotiate higher wages or paid vacations.”

Moreover, she insists, “Not a penny of Medicaid funding intended to help provide care for disabled men and women should be taken away and given to the union.”

On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled that Illinois’ forced unionization scheme violated the caregivers’ First Amendment rights.

Illinois doesn’t manage the home-health providers. It doesn’t hire or fire them. They are, as the Court noted, are “almost entirely answerable to the customers and not to the state.”

In other words, they are NOT “public employees.” Illinois has no business forcing them to pay a union to lobby on their behalf. Free speech means they get to make that choice.

As my Heritage colleagues James Sherk and Andrew Kloster note, the ruling will likely have only limited impact in the short run. Nationwide, only 100,000 home caregivers say they belong to a union. Yet the SEIU reports 600,000 dues-paying home care members nationwide. Thus, it appears, the vast majority of “organized” home care providers don’t even know that unions skim money from them.

The unions aren’t about to inform these caregivers of their First Amendment right to keep their money, so odds are the automatic dues and “agency fee” deductions will continue without their knowledge.

But the long-term outlook for public employee unions has dimmed. The majority opinion criticized the larger practice of forced unionization among government workers. Justice Samuel Alito’s analysis made it clear that forced dues schemes may violate the First Amendment rights of even “full-fledged” public employees.

The ruling in Harris v. Quinn, has limited application now. But it may herald a future restoration of freedom of association and free speech rights for millions of federal, state and local workers who rightfully resent being forced to support—through compulsory union dues—political speech and advocacy organizations that espouse views opposed to their own.

Ed Feulner

Dr. Edwin Feulner is Founder of The Heritage Foundation, a Townhall.com Gold Partner, and co-author of Getting America Right: The True Conservative Values Our Nation Needs Today .
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