Before Janus v. AFSCME, there was Harris v. Quinn fighting for 1st Amendment rights
Pamela Harris said June 27 was a day to celebrate economic liberty and the restoration of the First Amendment rights to millions of workers and their families.
In a 5-4 decision on that day, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of plaintiff Mark Janus, an Illinois child support specialist, who argued that being forced to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) violated his First Amendment rights since the union engaged in political speech that he didn't agree with.
Discussing the ruling, Harris, who won a similar case in 2014, told the Prairie State Wire that her case and Janus' are one in the same.
“Government workers deserve to have a choice and a voice when it comes to unions in their workplace,” Harris said. “This case asked the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure all government workers in the United States can decide for themselves whether to support a government union. It was so ordered.”
Harris is the mother of a disabled child who was paid by the state to care for her child and was mandated to pay Service Employees International Union (SEIU) collective bargaining fees against her will.
As the lead petitioner in Harris v. Quinn 2014, Harris and seven other home health care workers filed suit against then-Gov. Pat Quinn and won, overturning the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which allowed “closed shop’ states” like Illinois to accumulate fees from non-union members.
“In Harris, the Court decided that we were not employees of the state,” Harris said. “At the heart of Harris v Quinn were moms fighting to stop then-Illinois Governor Quinn’s attempt to force us to join a union and take Medicaid funding from our disabled sons and daughters.”
Harris said Quinn gave her and the other home health care workers' names and home addresses to the SEIU.
“And when the other public-sector union, AFSCME, asked, he gave them the list as well,” Harris said.
She said filing a lawsuit was the last option available to her and the other petitioners, but it worked.
“Agency fees are unfair to the public taxpayers because they have led to massive government overspending, higher taxes and political corruption,” Harris said.
Harris is confident her win four years ago set a precedent for Janus’ victory today.
“In Harris v Quinn, Supreme Court Justice Alito wrote ‘except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support,’” Harris said.
Harris said the Janus ruling does not change anything for people who like their union and want to continue to financially support their union.
“Unions will still be able to bargain with government entities over things like compensation, work conditions and benefits,” Harris said.
Harris said she has spent considerable time thinking about Janus and his courage.
“I am grateful to him and to his legal team, Jacob Huebert of the Liberty Justice Center and William Messenger from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation,” Harris said. “Those of us who celebrate this decision today have a responsibility to continue our work and meet this misinformation with facts.”
States are in the business of collecting money from public workers for the unions, according to Harris, who added all negotiations are a matter for public concern because it involves taxpayers’ dollars.
At the end of the day, a person's employment should be completely disconnected to their own choice to join a union, she said.
“The First Amendment guarantees them that right,” Harris said.