Court Ruling Is Defeat For Public Sector Unions
By the Associated Press, With Additional Reporting from National Public Radio
The Supreme Court has dealt a blow to public sector unions -- ruling that thousands of home health care workers in Illinois can't be required to pay fees that help cover the union's cost of collective bargaining.
It was a 5-to-4 ruling, split along ideological lines.
The justices said requiring those workers to pay the fees violates the First Amendment rights of non-members who disagree with the positions that unions take.
It's a setback for labor unions that have increased their ranks -- and boosted their bank accounts -- in Illinois and other states by signing up hundreds of thousands of in-home care workers.
The ruling could cause members to leave those unions -- feeling they have little incentive to pay dues if non-members don't have to share the burden of union costs.
But the ruling was limited to this particular segment of workers, and not private sector unions.
And it stopped short of overturning decades of practice that generally has allowed public sector unions to pass their representation costs on to non-members.
Monday's case involved Pamela Harris, an Illinois woman who cares for her son in her home.
Under collective-bargaining rules, she was considered a home care worker, and thus an employee of the state. The Service Employees International Union automatically deducted Harris' fees from her paychecks. But she maintained that the automatic deduction was a violation of her First Amendment rights.
On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed.
"If we accepted Illinois' argument, we would approve an unprecedented violation of the bedrock principle that, except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support," Justice Samuel Alito said in the majority opinion. "The First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program who do not want to join or support the union."