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SCOTUS Decision Could Affect Women's Workplace Rights

PHOTO: Inside the Supreme Court building, the justices are looking at a case union officials say could be of vital importance to vulnerable women workers. Photo by Franz Jantzen, courtesy Supreme Court of the United States
PHOTO: Inside the Supreme Court building, the justices are looking at a case union officials say could be of vital importance to vulnerable women workers. Photo by Franz Jantzen, courtesy Supreme Court of the United States
June 12, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A soon-to-be-decided Supreme Court case could set back some of the country's most vulnerable workers, union officials say.

Harris v. Quinn could stop home care workers and child care providers from joining public sector unions that automatically include employees in paying dues and enjoying contract benefits.

Jennifer Munt, a spokeswoman for The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 5, says millions of women who help people raise children and care for aging parents deserve the ability to join a union and make progress on issues like pay equity.

"A ruling undermining unions in the Harris case would bring that progress to a halt,” she maintains. “The question now is whether the Supreme Court will side with hard working women, or put the judicial seal of approval on income inequality."

In the Harris case, an anti-union group has argued that some Illinois caregivers should not have to automatically pay union dues.

The justices are expected to announce their decision by the end of June, possibly as soon as this week.

Under current agency shop rules, a public sector union has to cover everyone in the workplace under its contract, but it also gets to automatically collect the dues needed to keep that contract in place.

Munt says without that provision, employees could become free riders on the union's work, which she predicts would weaken the unions and ultimately, other workplace protections.

"When women join unions, we gain a voice on the job,” she says. “Many of these jobs pay too little, and they don't provide women with a path out of poverty so they can support their own families."

Munt says nearly 60 percent of women would make more if they were paid the same as men, and the overall poverty rate would be cut in half as a result.

She says union representation is key for that to happen.

"Public sector unions have shown that if women enjoy collective bargaining rights and have a strong voice in the workplace, the inequalities of the past begin to fade away," she points out.


Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV