PC(USA)’s J. Herbert Nelson criticizes Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn decision

Limiting workers’ collective bargaining rights is ‘a step backward,’ Nelson says

July 9, 2014

WASHINGTON

The Reverend J. Herbert Nelson II, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC, expressed disappointment June 30 with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Harris v. Quinn case.

“In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) we have long supported the rights of workers to organize, to share in workplace decisions and productivity growth, to seek protections from dangerous working conditions and to gain time and benefits to enable full family life,” Nelson said in a statement.

This characterization of PC(USA) support for workers’ right to unionize is excerpted from the Social Creed for the 21st Century, approved by the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the PC(USA).

The “Supreme Court decision in Harris v. Quinn is a step backward for all workers, for as we rise together, so together do we fall. There is no doubt that this decision will make it more difficult for all workers, not just public sector workers, to exercise their rights to bargain collectively,” Nelson said. “With respect to the specifics of this case, home health care workers, who are disproportionately women and people of color, are essential for the health and well-being of older adults and people with disabilities who wish to live their lives and to age with dignity in their homes. These workers are also key providers of support for families. This entire community would benefit from a home health care workforce that is more stable and better compensated. That these workers would be denied the basic human right to organize for better lives, wages, and working conditions is a travesty and a shame on this nation.”

The 5-4 split decision rules that thousands of home health care workers in Illinois cannot be required to pay fees that help cover the union’s costs of collective bargaining. The Supreme Court has not forbid public employee unions from compelling contributions, but has nonetheless limited it.

This is a damaging blow to public sector unions that have done so much to improve the lives of millions of working families across the country. Unions serve as the organized voice for workers and have led the charge on numerous workers’ rights issues that most Americans today take for granted, such as regular wage increases, health and safety regulations, eight-hour workdays, overtime protection and the weekend. Further, unions were instrumental in creating a strong, economically secure middle class.

Unions continue today to be more essential than ever, as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. We also know that unions are one of the best hopes for leveling the playing field of the gender wage gap, as a new study this year shows that the gender wage gap for women union members is half that of the disparity for non-union women workers. Indeed, unions continue to be essential to the health and strength of the American workforce, but today, unions have lost an important tool to support more workers in the struggle for better wages and working conditions. The PC(USA) will continue to support workers and their ability to bargain collectively.

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