Supreme Court to weigh in on ‘freeloading’ vs. ‘right to work’ for public employees

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The Supreme Court on Monday is expected to issue a ruling that could affect whether public-employee unions can automatically deduct fees from non-union workers.

Despite dealing with civil servants, the case will have little impact on federal-employees in particular. That’s because the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act already prohibits federal-worker unions from collecting fees from the nonunion employees they represent as part of a bargaining unit. Without a change in that law, federal workers will never pay union dues unless they choose to belong to a union.

The Civil Service Reform Act does not apply to state and local agencies, so they don’t have to play by the same rules.


A Supreme Court visitor takes a photo of the Supreme Court building. (AP Photo).

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 say this practice prevents “freeloading,” or benefiting from a union’s collective-bargaining work without helping to pay for it.

Conservatives argue that employees should be free to choose whether they join and finance unions, a concept they describe as the “right to work.” Twenty-four states have passed laws to that effect.

Monday’s expected ruling could affect whether federal-employee unions have any chance of changing federal law to allow compulsory union fees, as many states allow.

The case in question, Harris v. Quinn, involves 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 in that case, Pam Harris, is arguing that automatic dues deductions violate her First Amendment rights.

The Post’s Bob Barnes wrote in January that Harris v. Quinn “pits right-to-work supporters against labor unions and the Obama administration, and just as predictably mostly split the justices along ideological lines.”

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks | June 27