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Monday, October 24, 2016

David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court justices debated Tuesday whether teachers and other public employees can be required to pay dues to support a union even if some of them oppose it.

Since 1977, the high court has upheld such mandatory union fees, but some justices suggested that they were open to changing course and striking down the practice as a violation of the First Amendment.

Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr. repeatedly questioned how the government can force unwilling workers to pay such dues, known as “fair-share” dues.

Kennedy, a strong supporter of free speech, said he did not see why “a union can take money from any employee who objects to the union’s position on fundamental political grounds.”

Other justices did not seem ready to strike down the fees, which would deal a devastating blow to unions.

That “is a radical argument,” Justice Elena Kagan told an attorney for the National Right to Work Foundation, an anti-union advocacy group. “It would radically restructure the way workplaces are run. … There must be thousands and thousands of contracts across the United States with fair-share provisions,” she said.

Justice Antonin Scalia, alone among the five more conservative justices, suggested that he was not ready to switch course. “Our cases say you can be compelled not be to a free rider,” he told one lawyer. Because all the employees benefit if the union negotiates higher wages, everyone can be required to pay for “bargaining that benefits you as well as everybody else,” he said.

The issue arose in an Illinois case involving home care providers who are paid by the state and organized in a union. But the justices spent little time talking about the particulars of that program.

Illinois uses Medicaid funds to provide in-home care for adults with disabilities. In 2003, Gov. Rod Blagojevich cleared the way for more than 20,000 of these in-home workers to be characterized as state workers who were then free to join a union. A majority of them voted to join the Service Employees International Union, which led to higher wages and better benefits.

Photo: OZinOH via Flickr

  • Dominick Vila

    This is an example of what is likely to happen if the GOP gets control of the Senate in November.
    If workers want to organize, that’s their business.

    • Mark Forsyth

      Majority is “supposed” to rule except in states where they have right to work laws. Union busting legislation as there ever was.

    • Canistercook

      Well with retired lifeguards in Newport Beach getting $100,000 a year pension something needs changing!

      • Duckbudder

        Citation or GTFO

    • Allan Richardson

      If I were a union negotiator, I would propose to management that the next raise in union wages apply ONLY to union members; in other words, a dual wage scale, with union-negotiated wages for those who choose to join, and whatever the boss wants to pay for those who are “ideologically opposed” to unions. Management would save money temporarily, and the union would get more members. After all, if you “don’t believe in” unions, why should you expect them to help you get more money? Or, for that matter, protect you from abuse by the boss.

  • Mark Forsyth

    Beware the phrase ‘Fair Share” The lawyers of the rich have given those two words more twists than a contortionist to keep from paying taxes.

  • whodatbob

    Another attack by republicans on the middle class.

    • Canistercook

      Most Republicans are middle class!

  • Lovefacts

    SCOUS no longer votes to protect the Constitution or the American people. Under appointees by Reagan and both Bush #1 & #2, the court’s sole focus is protection of Republican positions and big business. Witness the current 85% rulings in support of both the government and big business at the expense of citizens 85%–remember the ruling re eminent domain. As a result, I have lost all faith that Republican appointed justices will ever rule in favor a working people or our freedoms or our right to drink clean water or breath clean air or have safe working conditions or that unions should exist, and so on.

    • JSquercia

      I NEVER thought I would see the day when I found myself agreeing with Justice Scalia but in this case I DO and remember where Scalia goes Thomas follows

  • BethDunham

    The Terrorists at FOX thats what they are

  • howa4x

    I worked in governmental administration and negotiated with public unions. this issue is very old where by those who don’t belong to a union always complained that dues were taken out of their pay for zero representation.
    The other side of that argument is, if the union is the recognized bargaining entity and is negotiating salary for every title covered by the agreement they have a right to be reimbursed for expenses like legal. The alternative would be that the union could say we are only negotiating for our members and those who don’t want to be in it can negotiate themselves. So the home health nurses that brought this suit could for example go to management and negotiate issues like salary, work hours, harassment claims, Holiday pay, vacation days, sick time, overtime, by themselves with a lawyer that they hire, without the clout of the union. That is the fair way to settle this.

    • jointerjohn

      I usually agree with you, but in this case what you’ve suggested would lead to the dismissal of the union employees. Management would hire more of those antagonistic to the union, (believe me they have ways of screening applicants for their inclinations), and soon the true union would be out the door. There was a time when these whiners who won’t support their brothers and sisters in the workplace would have to replace a lot of car tires, windshields, and even a few front teeth for this kind of selfishness.

      • S.J. Jolly

        Plus, unless those trying to negotiate for themselves are some kind of super star employees, all they would get is a “take it or find other employment” offer from the company.

        • jointerjohn

          You are correct. The whole point of collective bargaining is so that the workers can level up the balance of power that is nonexistent when each individual stands alone before a powerful employer. Those who don’t give a damn about their fellow workers, only themselves, should accept their traditional title. SCAB. Saying they object to paying union dues on some philosophical or political basis is just a B.S. cover-up for the fact that they are self-serving, screw-the-other-guy, I got mine so to hell with you, SCABS.

      • howa4x

        I’m not talking about the private sector and agree that would be the case. I wrote about public sector unions.
        Usually the police and fire unions are strong with the ability to go into collective bargaining and stand lock step together. It is the other major union which is a collection of everything not police or fire. Here is were the trouble usually is. Say a DPW has a lot of employees and another group doesn’t, like inspectors who need educational credits to keep their job. the DPW get the presidency of the union and ignores the ones that have other needs. this is usually the case. Also workers can’t be dismissed as easily as the private sector. This is done to avoid whole house cleaning with a new elected official which I’ve seen happen more than once. If those nurses were told that you don’t have to pay union dues and you’re on your own for everything I described they would change quickly

        • jointerjohn

          I will agree that faced with the ultimatum of “no dues – no benefits”, they would pay their dues. I am a manager in a local government where there is a union structure much like you describe. Those who badmouth unions always take the raises and benefits that union wins for them, making them, in essence, both scabs and hypocrites.

          • howa4x


  • Bryan Blake

    As a Texan I have the perfect solution for the GOP’s Wendy problem. Gov. Rick Perry can call another special session of the Legislature. The Legislature can then “repeal” the 19th Amendment to The US Constitution and all of those pesky women will not be allowed to vote. When Perry signs the bill he can continue to pontificate about the 10th Amendment. And while he is at it he can continue to hint at succession. A nice idea. But Texas is too small to find a place big enough to herd all of those radical Republicans into.

  • Faraday_Cat

    Here’s an idea…just don’t let unions use member dues for political speech. You don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, right?

    • Allan Richardson

      Actually, unions do NOT use dues for political speech. At every union meeting, members are reminded that only by making a SEPARATE contribution to the political action committee can that committee operate. Frequently, 50-50 drawings are held at the meeting to finance political action. Dues money is used ONLY for the negotiating, grievance fighting, administrative, and other non-political purposes. Union locals often rent their halls for banquets, weddings, and other functions to help pay the mortgage, taxes, etc. to own their building, but even the profits (if any) from rentals are not routed to political action.

      But anti-union politicians and company spokespersons who do not especially care how accurate their facts are (i.e. L—S) persist in spreading this misperception.

  • charles king

    It seem to me it is all about MONIES, and if the Unions Wants? to exist it has to except those Who? do not want to join. Hands on approach is necessary When? both sides have a problem of Who? will and Who not let us come together and solve the problem with (Critical Thinking), it works if you just give it a chance. MONIES are the causes of all the cheating and lying in all of our Governing County, STATE, Federal, and now our Justice department, WHERE? is our Democracy and Who? is protecting the People from MONIES, the Unions at one time was Welcome BY the People, but now MONIES say, “The Unions are Not Welcome”, WHAT? the hell is going on, I’will tell you What? is going on. The policitions has taken Your Votes and paid the Piper for MONIES. Wake up and get your Democracy back, because the Plutocracts has taken ownership of your Democracy. Thank You are the magic words in my book. I Love Ya All. MR. C. E. KING

  • itsfun

    A big problem some have with being forced to pay union dues, is the unions using their dues for politicial purposes. People want their dues to be used to help them at the work place, not get some union officials pal elected to a politicial office. Public employee type unions do not have the only real power that private sector unions have and that is the right to go on strike. Public employees get fired for going on strike. The only real power of a union is to stop work. If you can’t do that, the union has no real power anyway. Public unions are just a way to keep union officials rich.