It is a little unusual for the United States Supreme Court to consider two important labor cases during its’ term, but that is exactly what legal analysts will be saying come June. In January, they issued a decision on a donning and doffing case that I previously blogged about. They are currently considering an even bigger case for unions regarding union dues, and whether or not unions can require non-union workers to financially support the union that represents them.
Since Abood v. Detroit Board of Education which was decided more than 50 years ago, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of unions to require workers to pay a part of usual union dues, in exchange for the union’s duty to represent them in contract negotiations and grievance arbitrations. That whole scenario is now at question, potentially jeopardizing public employee unionism.
In Minnesota, we identify the two types of union membership as “full-dues” and “fair-share.” In the current case pending before the Court, the rights of “fair-share members” are at issue. The dispute stemmed from eight Illinois health care workers who challenged the fair-share fee requirement, arguing the workers should be characterized as independent contractors, and therefore not forced to contribute to union dues against their will.
Since Abood was decided, unions have an obligation to represent all members in a bargaining unit. In exchange, while workers are not required to join the union, they are required to pay for the costs of representation, considered their “fair share.” After all, the workers benefit from the efforts of the union during collective bargaining, and in disciplinary matters. However, the Court has made it clear the “fair share” members can’t be required to pay any part of dues that represent political or ideological activity by the union.
Commentators at the SCOTUS blog are characterizing the Harris case as “public sector unions under fire.” The Court’s ruling will be issued any day now.