The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Editorials

July 1, 2014

Court stays restrained in union ruling

Why it matters: The Supreme Court's ruling on union fees has something to cheer by both opponents and proponents of unions.

As most of the country was focused Monday on the Supreme Court ruling on whether Obamacare can force Hobby Lobby to provide contraceptive insurance coverage to its employees (it can’t), the high court released an opinion on another major case.

At issue was whether unions could require some government employees to pay fees to labor unions representing them even if they disagree with the union’s positions. The case involved Illinois workers who provide home health care to Medicaid recipients.

The majority 5-4 opinion, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., concluded that there was a category of government employee — a partial public employee — who can opt out of joining a union and not be required to contribute fees to that labor group.

The narrow, restrained ruling has to be generally welcomed by public employee unions. Many union supporters had feared that the court’s conservative majority would use the case — Harris v. Quinn — to make a more sweeping ruling that could have crippled public-sector unions.

As in this case, public employees — say police officers or teachers — are required to pay fees to the union representing them, even if the employee is not an active union member or disagrees with the union’s positions.

Unions argue that the fees are reasonable because they represent all employees in the bargaining unit and all of those employees benefit from any wage and benefit increases secured through union negotiations.

The court’s majority said that home-care aides are different than other public employees. The aides, who are employed by an ill or disabled person with Medicaid’s paying their wages, should be classified as “partial public employees,” said the court.

Also, unions do not conduct collective bargaining for the aides. Instead the states usually set the wages for home-care aides and other partial public employees.

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