High Court Rules Against Compulsory Union Dues by Certain Public Employees

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that certain public employees cannot be compelled to pay dues to cover the cost of union collective bargaining. The 5-4 ruling in an Illinois home health worker case was a victory for employees who disagree with positions that unions take.

The narrow decision means that the dues requirement violates the First Amendment rights of nonmembers who disagree with the positions that unions take, the Associated Press reported.

Labor unions have increased their numbers and coffers in Illinois and other states by signing up hundreds of thousands of in-home care workers. The ruling could lead to an exodus of members who will have little incentive to pay dues if nonmembers don’t have to share the burden of union costs, the AP said.

The ruling was limited to the home health workers, not private sector unions, and it stopped short of overturning decades of practice that has generally allowed public sector unions to pass through their representation costs to nonmembers, the AP reported.

The opinion’s author, Justice Samuel Alito, said home care workers are different from other types of government 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 case involves about 26,000 Illinois workers who provide home care for disabled people and are paid with Medicaid funds administered by the state.

The court’s liberal judges ruled in favor of the union dues.

A group of workers led by Pamela Harris, a home health aide who cares for her disabled son at home,  filed a lawsuit. She said the fees violate the First Amendment.

Backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the workers said it wasn’t fair to make someone pay fees to a group that takes positions the fee-payer disagrees with, the AP said.

-Dana Beyerle