The Supreme Court Monday ruled partial public employees cannot be required to contribute union dues, a narrow decision that was less of a blow to public unions than labor groups feared.
Justices sided 5-4 with home care workers in Illinois who sued after being required to pay union dues to SEIU Healthcare Illinois, saying the practice violates First Amendment rights.
The practice of requiring non-union members to pay "fair share" fees to prevent "freeloading" -- getting benefits negotiated by the union without paying for it. Plaintiff Pamela Harris, a home health aide who cares for her disabled son, said it violated her First Amendment rights to be forced to pay dues to a group with whose practices she disagrees.
Labor groups fear the ruling will mean an exodus of employees who will no longer have an incentive to pay dues when non-members still reap the benefits of union work without sharing the burden of the costs.
But in his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said the home care workers are different from other kinds of public employees because they primarily work in the private homes of the elderly or disabled and don't have other rights and benefits given to state employees.
He declined to overturn a 1977 Supreme Court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that requires public employees who choose not to join a union to pay proportional fair share fees. That law prohibits that money from being used for political purposes.
In 2003, Illinois passed a law making home care workers state employees eligible for collective bargaining, but Alito sided with the plaintiffs' argument that they are different than traditional public employees because they do not work on government property and they aren't supervised by other state employees.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas joined the majority opinion. Justice Elena Kagan authored the dissent, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.