Public sector unions dealt big blow from Supreme Court

TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - It's being called a major blow to unions across the country. A Supreme Court ruling Wednesday says government workers can't be forced to contribute to a union in collective bargaining.

Some now some wonder about the future of unions.

The Supreme Court ruling reverses 41 years of case law and has many union supporters vowing not to give up the fight.

In that 5-4 decision, the court reversed a decision that required those public employees to pay union dues to represent them, even if the workers chose not to join the union. The court ruling says this violated First Amendment rights by forcing them to support something they might have disagreed with.

But those unions still have to represent workers even if they don't pay. It's called the free rider rule.

Unions say the outcome could affect more than 5 million government workers in about two dozen states which includes Ohio.

University of Toledo law professor Joseph Slater says this only applies to unions in the public sector. So this kind of thing will probably not apply to private union partnerships, for example auto workers. That's because the argument for the public unions was based on the first amendment.

“The First Amendment like the rest of the Bill of Rights only applies where there is government or state action. In a private sector agreement there is no state action so this ruling doesn't apply to private employees. I think it's unlikely that there would be a Supreme Court ruling that would affect it,” said Slater.

Slater admits this will hurt unions. Fewer people paying dues means fewer dollars, which could mean less influence. In states that have become "right to work" Slater says unions have lost between 10% and 30% of their paid members.

It'll be some time until we see what that numbers actually look like here.