The challenge and threat to the disabled, workers and public sector unions following the Supreme Court's decision in Harris v. Quinn ("Public unions at risk," July 1) is real. Yet again the court has taken action abridging protections afforded working people who have done so much to sustain what remains of our ever shrinking middle class. For years, labor unions have been under increasing pressure, and it is no coincidence that the decline in union membership across the private and public sectors has coincided with the greatest income inequality we've seen since the Great Depression.
That the court tempered its ruling by limiting its holding specifically to home health care workers who primarily serve elderly and disabled people is of dubious consolation. Maryland has derived great benefit from our home-care system as it exists inclusive of collective bargaining. By organizing together, home care workers have improved both their own working conditions and the quality of services provided.
A key point that I hope isn't lost in understanding this decision "narrowly" involves the threat to the independence and empowerment of people with disabilities. This opinion says that providing services in the home rather than in an institution and reserving hiring, firing and daily supervision power in the disabled person are what makes it unconstitutional to require personal assistants to defray collective bargaining costs. Collective bargaining is substantially impaired when unions cannot require workers who benefit from it to pay their share of the cost.
I am hoping that Maryland responds appropriately to shore up our collective bargaining regime. Doing nothing will likely result in an erosion of the stabilization of the personal assistance workforce that collective bargaining has provided. However, shoring up collective bargaining systems by turning to greater institutionalization and less consumer control is not the answer. Nothing, not even a Supreme Court decision, should stand in the way of home care workers having a strong voice for good jobs and quality home care for the disabled.
Rob Johnson, Windsor Mill
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