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Supreme Court labor ruling doesn’t impact federal unions, and here’s why

The Supreme Court’s ruling Monday regarding public-sector unions doesn’t impact federal government labor organizations and employees. Here’s why:

While the 5 to 4 decision covers a segment of public workers, federal workers and their representatives such as the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union are regulated by the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act.

A Supreme Court visitor snaps a photo of the Supreme Court building. (AP Photo, File)


In many ways, the law has federal workers where the court’s majority wants them to be.

The court’s ruling Monday said home health-care workers in Illinois, who essentially function as state employees there, can’t be forced to pay union fees.

Under the Civil Service Reform Act, all federal worker unions are required to operate as “open shops,” meaning that any labor group representing non-management staff in an agency must represent all of the non-management employees, regardless of whether they join the union.

Workers who join federal unions voluntarily pay membership dues. But federal workers in general are not “under any obligation to pay a representation fee or any other fee to the union,” AFGE noted in a 2014 issue paper. “In other words, they [employees] choose to join the union or they choose not to join the union.”

The Civil Service Reform Act does not apply to state and local agencies.

“Right to work” laws, which require open shops, exist in 24 states. But about half of U.S. states allow public employee unions to deduct fees from all workers in their bargaining units, including those who are not union members. Labor groups have said this prevents “freeloading” — workers benefiting from a union’s work without helping to pay for it.

Though the Harris v. Quinn case stopped short of ending that practice altogether, it has put a segment of public workers out of labor’s financial reach.

The case involved workers in Illinois who care for the disabled — often their own family members — in patients’ homes. Those caretakers receive Medicaid funds and function as state employees for purposes of collective bargaining in Illinois.

The plaintiff, Pam Harris, argued that automatic dues deductions violated her First Amendment rights, and the majority of the court agreed.

NTEU’s National President Colleen Kelley explained it all this way: “Harris v. Quinn pertains to the “agency shop” or “fair share” concept, under which members of a bargaining unit who do not wish to join the union are nevertheless required to pay dues.  That concept does not exist in the federal sector because federal unions are required, pursuant to the Civil Service Reform Act, to represent all employees in a unit without discrimination and regardless of union membership.  As such, the Harris decision does not apply to the federal sector.”

Kelley added, however, “NTEU is nonetheless disappointed by today’s decision and is concerned about its impact on both represented workers and, by extension, the individuals who receive care from them.”




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Joe Davidson · June 30, 2014

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