The Supreme Court is about to deliver another blow to unions

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

In his most recent State of the State address, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said an upcoming Supreme Court ruling might be the end of public unions.

As far as most nursing home operators are concerned, it's too bad the same fate wouldn't extend to non-public unions as well. To say there's no love lost here would be an extreme understatement.

Later this month, our nation's highest court will hear arguments in the case known as Janus v American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. At issue is whether public employees who choose not to join their designated union may nevertheless be charged agency fees to support collective bargaining.

The “Janus” in this case is Mark Janus, an Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services employee. AFSCME represents the workers there.

While he is not a member of the union, money is still removed from his paycheck to support it. He argues this requirement amounts to an infringement on his right to free speech.

"I'm forced to pay money to a union that then supports political causes I don't agree with," he recently said in an interview with Illinois Policy, a conservative think tank.

Should the court buy his argument (and it appears very likely it will), non-members would no longer have to deal with those paycheck deductions.

In case you be wondering why unions are allowed to charge non-members such a fee in the first place, it's thanks to a different Supreme Court decision made in 1977. In this earlier case (Abood v. Detroit Board of Education) the court said non-members can be required to pony up because they also enjoy the benefits of labor negotiations.

The upcoming case might very well result in a 5-4 decision, with Neil Gorsuch casting the swing vote. Gorsuch, you may remember, is the conservative-leaning jurist President Trump picked to replace Anton Scalia.

Most experts agree that an anti-union vote by the Supreme Court would hurt unions financially, but probably won't put them out of business.

Union membership has been slowly declining for the past seven decades. There have been plenty of arguments for and against the proposition that this is a good thing. My view is that it is, but not for the reasons near and dear to many nursing home operators.

The industry sees the riddance of union employees as being akin to the riddance of pests. Unions create all kinds of managerial and bottom-line headaches. And who needs those? At least, that's the general sentiment in the c-suite. And there's no refuting the logic, at least from a management perspective.

As for me, I take the declining membership numbers as a sign that working conditions must be improving. If they weren't, union membership would surely rise.

People are, by and large, self-interested creatures. That more employees no longer see the need for others to bargain on their behalf would appear to be a sign of progress.

Would most workers like to earn more and enjoy better working conditions? Of course. But then again, who wouldn't?

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.