Supreme Court Ruling on Union Dues Worries Educators

The US Supreme Court has ruled that public sector unions may no longer require home health care workers in Illinois to pay fees if they are non-members.  The practice was found to be unconstitutional, breaking First Amendment rights, as the non-members do not agree with the union’s positions.

The case involved 26,000 Illinois home health care workers, who were backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.  They claimed the union was using money from their fees to make a political endorsement for an increase in Medicaid payments.

It is unclear how this ruling will affect other unions.  However, union leaders in 26 other states fear that the decision will be used by judges to create similar rulings for other public-sector employees, including teachers.

In a public statement, National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel shares his reaction to the decision:

“Americans count on quality public services provided by public employees like educators. We need workplaces, including public schools, where front-line employees have a voice. Today’s decision shuts the door on one proven method for ensuring that public sector workers’ voices are heard.  At a time when we are just starting to dig out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we should be creating an economy that works for all of us—not taking radical steps that undermine the rights of public workers while creating uncertainty and instability in the workplace.”

The NEA joined forces with the California Teachers Association and Change to Win, a grouping of American labor unions, to expose these beliefs to the Supreme Court.

Similar views are felt in teacher’s unions across the country.  In Albany, New York State United Teachers President Karen E. Magee issued a statement reacting to the decision.  Magee views unions as necessary for the middle class to continue to grow.

 “Where unions exist, pay and benefits for all workers go up.”

In 2003 a law was passed recognizing home health care workers as public employees, allowing the workers to be represented by the Service Employees International Union.

“Other than providing compensation, the State’s role is comparatively small,” Alito wrote.

Home health care workers are paid through federally funded Medicaid.

Although workers did not have to join the union, money was deducted from their paychecks to cover union fees, as the union negotiated on their behalf over issues such as pay and working conditions.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn added home health care workers providing disability services to the list of union-eligible employees in 2009, writes Adam Serwer for MSNBC.

A 1977 Supreme Court ruling, Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education, states that non-members must pay dues so long as the monies are not used by the union for political activity.

The ruling stands for “partial-public employees” and does not save teachers, firefighters, or other non-member state employees from paying dues to unions.

Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said home care workers “are different from full-fledged public employees” because they work primarily for their disabled or elderly customers and do not have most of the rights and benefits of state employees. The ruling does not affect private sector workers.

The ruling could lead to many members leaving the union, finding it unfair that non-members still retain the union benefits without the cost, writes Sam Hananel for The Associated Press.

The White House, in a statement, said the decision “will not only make it significantly harder for these dedicated employees to get a fair shake in exchange for their hard work, but will make it harder for states and cities to ensure the elderly and Americans with disabilities get the care they need and deserve.”

Pamela Harris, a home health care worker who lead the group who filed the lawsuit, is happy with the result, saying:

“Families in Illinois can relax knowing their homes are safe from being a union workplace and there will be no third party intruding into the care we provide our disabled sons and daughters,” Harris said.

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