Monday's Other Supreme Court Decision That Attacked Female Workers

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
July 1 2014 10:50 AM

Monday's Other Supreme Court Decision That Attacked Female Workers

92776454-registered-nurse-susan-eager-checks-the-feet-of-jane
Unions for home health care professionals took a major blow on Monday.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

The Hobby Lobby decision sucked up most of the media coverage of women’s rights on Monday, but the other big Supreme Court decision, in Harris v. Quinn, was yet another blow to the rights of working women. In that case, the court decided against decades of precedent allowing unions to prevent free riders by charging "fair share" fees to workers who aren't unionized but still profit from collective bargaining by enjoying higher wages and better benefits. The court was unwilling to completely bulldoze that precedent, so the decision only affected a certain group of workers: Home health care workers who are paid by the government but work in the homes of their patients, a group that happens to be mostly female. Unions representing other public employees, like firefighters, police officers, and teachers, can continue to collect the fair-share fees.

At Talking Points Memo, Sheila Bapat argues that the female predominance of the group is not merely a coincidence, but part of the reason the court felt justified in stripping Illinois’ home health care unions of their power and likely ending them completely:

Why did Alito and his conservative brothers on the Court (literally, all 5 joining in the majority are men) rule this way? Principally, the Court bought the argument that “a home is not a union workplace.” The Court bought into the idea that the specifics of the domestic worker’s work arrangement causes domestic work to fall outside of the Abood framework.
Advertisement

This sense that domestic and caring labor is not "real" labor and therefore doesn't need the same protections as other kinds of labor may not be intentionally sexist. (Though it’s worth noting, as Bapat does, that the justices who ruled against the mostly female workforce in question are all men). But regardless of the decision’s intentions, the effect of systematically devaluing forms of labor that just happen to be female-dominated amounts to a type of discrimination against women that, in turn, contributes to the problem of wage inequality. Women of color are hit particularly hard:

Domestic workers—mostly women of color who care for children, elderly, disabled and ill—are among the lowest-paid workers in the United States. There are some 2 million domestic workers in the country, many of whom are serving the most elderly and disabled populations as part of programs like the one in Illinois. Several states have, like Illinois, established programs through which they pay domestic workers to care for their state’s most vulnerable populations. These unions have been shown to reduce worker turnover as well as improve care for those who need it most.

The fact that this decision will degrade the quality of care for homebound patients is particularly ironic, as it was one of those patients, Pam Harris, who sued to end the union. Harris said she didn't want her home to be a "union workplace." There can be no better symbol of the Fox News generation than a person who'd rather suppress the wages of health workers than ensure the quality of her own care.

This decision falls right in line with the an increasingly gendered attack on unions, with female-dominated unions such as teacher's unions or other service industry unions getting the lion's share of abuse from politicians and right-wing media. Part of this just reflects the changing nature of work in America, no doubt. Female-dominated industries are a growing part of the labor force and, as such, are going to attract more abuse from anti-labor forces. But, as this Supreme Court decision shows, "feminine" caring professions like teaching and nursing are still regarded not as real work, but as merely something ladies do to earn a little pin money. The result is lower wages overall for women and increasing hardships for families that rely on their incomes for more than frivolities.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 20 2014 7:00 AM Gallery: The Red Planet and the Comet
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.