Political consultant: Ruling could 'dramatically undermine public sector unions'
As the current term of the United States Supreme Court nears its end, a ruling remains to be announced that could fundamentally change the way government unions are organized.
Harris v. Quinn, which involves personal care providers in Illinois who contested a forced unionization they were subjected to, is largely equivalent to the home health care "dues skim" that took place in Michigan. In both unionization schemes, workers who take care of the elderly and disabled were forced into a union. In Michigan, an affiliate of the Service Employees International union took more than $34 million from the Medicaid checks of people who were being cared for mostly by friends and family.
The U.S. Supreme Court held oral arguments in the Harris v. Quinn case in January and a final ruling is expected by the end of June. There are reasons to believe the court’s decision in the case might be to reverse the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education ruling. If that's what happens it would have the effect of making all public employees nationwide subject to right-to-work.
Ramifications of such a ruling by the high court would be far-reaching.
"I think the reaction would be humongous," said Inside Michigan Politics founder Bill Ballenger. "It would be what happened in Wisconsin and Michigan combined, multiplied to the 10th power."
Dennis Darnoi, political consultant with Densar Consulting of Farmington Hills, said part of impact of the potential ruling would come from the lack of awareness about it within the regular news media.
"I think it would be one of those things that totally catches people off guard," Darnoi said. "Very few people would be clued in ahead of time. I think in the news media the reaction you would see would be like what we saw in reaction to Citizens United v. FEC (the 2010 decision that struck down the limits on campaign contributions). It would probably get a lot of focus from certain segments of the media and a lot of criticism. It would definitely be a shock to the system in ways similar to the fights (over labor issues) in Wisconsin and Michigan. Only on this one the attitude would be along the lines of: 'Look, they've taken all of it.' "
Robert Kolt, political strategist with Lansing-based Kolt Communications, said if the court decides to overturn the Abood ruling, the reaction of the unions could either dampen the resulting furor or fan the flames of it.
"Obviously it would be huge," Kolt said. "But a big factor would be how labor responds. If they make a big deal out it then the news media would tend to cover it more than if labor decided to play it down."
Mark Grebner of East Lansing-based Practical Political Consulting said the potential ruling would be a big deal, but from a long term perspective might not be all that unexpected.
"Ever since about 1980 the right-wingers have had a crusade to defund the left," Grebner said. "That's why they supported getting rid the tax deduction on contributions — it didn't affect large donors as much as small donors. I guess if the court makes this decision it would be one more step in that direction. I'm not sure how it would play out in the news media. A lot of people don't know very much about the inner workings of the whole union dues thing.
"Overall, it would dramatically undermine public sector unions," Grebner continued. "And we should mention that even though Michigan passed right-to-work, it would still have at least a small impact here because they exempted police and firefighters but this possible ruling wouldn't."