April 25, 2018
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Maine state workers unaffected by Supreme Court decision on ‘fair share’ union fees

By Darren Fishell, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — The head of the Maine state workers’ union said his group won’t be affected by the U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 decision to overturn a lower court’s ruling and prevent an Illinois union from collecting “fair-share” fees from certain home care workers.

Chris Quint, director of the Maine State Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, said in a phone interview the decision was a blow to workers’ rights but its impact is limited.

“For the purposes of our members in Maine, it will have no impact at all,” Quint said.

The court’s ruling was prompted by an Illinois case, Harris v. Quinn, regarding 20,000 home care workers who in 2003 were designated as “public employees,” paid by Medicaid funds and thereafter organized into a union by the SEIU in that state. At question was whether the union could collect what are known as “fair share” fees from those home care workers who opted not to join the union.

The court in 1977 held that unions could collect “fair share” fees to help cover the costs of collective bargaining on behalf of all employees, including non-union members.

The ruling Monday did not change that precedent by dealing specifically with how those Illinois home care workers are different from “full-fledged public employees.” It did not rule on the related but broader question of placing limits on mandatory union dues, which supporters call “right-to-work” legislation.

That issue became a hot-button topic in the Legislature and governor’s office last year, with two proposals to prohibit unions from collecting “fair-share” fees from non-members failing in party-line votes. The so-called “right-to-work” reforms were supported by Republicans who argued that they would make the state more competitive in bringing companies to Maine.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage separately included a so-called “right-to-work” provision in his Open for Business Zones proposal, that he said was aimed at attracting large employers, like Boeing, to the state.

Some states have passed such laws and those are also not affected by the court’s ruling Monday.

Quint said the court ruling could have been more expansive, dealing a broader blow to unions’ ability to collect dues from non-members.

“It didn’t go as far as it could have gone but it’s another chip in the armor,” Quint said. “We’re definitely concerned.”

The majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Justice Elena Kagan penned the dissent, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

Kagan wrote in the dissent that the decision denied a “radical request” to impose right-to-work policies for all government employees but disagreed that Illinois’ home care workers, known as “personal assistants,” are different from any other public employees.


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