The Left’s Labor Blind Spots

As you may have heard, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito handed public sector unions a minor defeat this Monday.

In response to the 5-4 Harris v. Quinn decision, progressive law professor Laurence H. Tribe has bitterly chided the Roberts court: “Harris, despite its arguably narrow holding and apparent restraint, is…part of a dangerous trend of veiling deregulatory economics in constitutional law.”

In even stronger language, far-left and union-funded San Francisco State University “labor and employment studies” professor John A. Logan writes, “…the Roberts Court weakened even further the already paltry rights of American workers. In Harris v. Quinn, the court’s conservative majority undermined the ability of home care workers to have an effective voice on their working conditions.”

These claims are false and misleading given the background of the case: Writing the majority opinion in Harris v. Quinn, Alito argued that home care workers who do not wish to join a union cannot be required to pay “agency fees,” which are required from non-union members who benefit from union representation in their workplace so those workers aren’t benefiting from a union’s services for free. Alito argues that the reason they cannot be required to pay agency fees is because they are not full-fledged public employees.

This ruling seems fair enough at face value because home care providers are quite independent, keeping their own hours and running their own businesses. The argument that they can be classified as state employees comes from the fact that home care workers receive Medicaid payments from state governments to help with patient care. But how does that make them full-fledged state employees? If one were to accept the line of argument that someone can be classified as a state employee simply because they receive money from the state, then one could expand that line of argument to include many college students as government employees because they receive federal student aid. I sincerely hope that doesn’t give Big Labor any ideas…

The bitter complaints of disappointed union allies are worth examination because they highlight some of the blind spots in the modern labor debate.

For example, Tribe’s article holds up Abood v. Detroit Board of Education as the precedent that the court should have deferred to in its decision. But Aloysius Hogan describes how Abood is riddled with problems, one of the most significant being the fact that it enhances a system where conservative workers watch chunks of their paychecks go to a liberal political agenda. For this reason, Alito calls Abood a First Amendment “anomaly” and that designation poses a threat to Abood in the future. Abood now stands on shaky ground in light of Harris v. Quinn.

The left is very nervous about Abood being overturned because they see “agency fees” as necessary to prevent workers free-riding on benefits of union representation without paying the union for its services. But this hyped-up concern about free-riding is one of the blind spots in the labor debate because “free-riding” is a double-edged sword: unions lose because people don’t pay for their services, but some of those workers aren’t intending to rip-off unions — they genuinely don’t want union representation, period. The left doesn’t want to accept this reality and if they had their way, union privileges would take precedent over the First Amendment.

Another of the left’s blind spots in the labor debate is the mistreatment of workers at the hands of unions, rather than employers. Not to say that employers are infallible, but the left ignores the fact that unions can also be accused of worker mistreatment, to say nothing of the use of conservative workers’ hard-earned wages for liberal political purposes. Talk about the “paltry rights of American workers.”