The Supreme Court Deals Blow To Public-Sector Unions

The Supreme Court limited the power of unions to compel public-sector employees to pay contributions. But it did not forbid it in a 5-4 decision written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, according to the SCOTUSblog.

“This is a substantial obstacle to expanding public employee unions, but it does not gut them,” SCOTUSblog’s Tom Goldstein wrote.

Unions had been concerned that the court would strike down laws in 26 states requiring teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public-sector employees to pay dues to the unions that negotiate contracts on their behalf, even if the workers don’t want to become union members.

The Court hedged somewhat — but the decision is still a setback for public-sector unions. According to SCOTUSblog, the decision “recognised a category of ‘partial public employees’ who could not be required to contribute to union fees. Unions worried the court would rule all public employees could not be forced to pay, which would dry up their coffers.

“It remains possible that in a later case the Court will overturn its prior precedent and forbid requiring public employees to contribute to union bargaining. But today it has refused to go that far. The unions have lost a tool to expand their reach. But they have dodged a major challenge to their very existence,” Goldstein wrote.

Here’s more background on the case, Harris v. Quinn, from The Chicago Tribune:

Illinois and other states have long used Medicaid funds to pay salaries for in-home care workers to assist disabled adults who otherwise might have to be placed in state institutions. The jobs were poorly paid, and turnover was high.

During the past decade, more than 20,000 of these workers in Illinois voted to organise and won wage increases by joining the Service Employees International Union. They were able to do so thanks to executive orders signed by Govs. Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn that designated them as “public employees.”

In 2010, the National Right to Work Foundation, an anti-union advocacy group, sued Quinn and the union, accusing the state and union of conspiring to relabel private care providers so the union could collect union fees.

Their main challenge is whether workers who don’t want to participate in the union should be forced to pay dues, a longtime union practice known as “fair-share” fees.

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