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SCOTUS Decision Could Affect Women's Workplace Rights

PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court is looking at a case union officials say could be of vital importance to vulnerable female workers. CREDIT: Franz Jantzen, States Supreme Court of the United States.
PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court is looking at a case union officials say could be of vital importance to vulnerable female workers. CREDIT: Franz Jantzen, States Supreme Court of the United States.
June 16, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - A soon-to-be-decided U.S. Supreme Court case could set back some of the county's most vulnerable workers, according to some union officials.

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, spokeswoman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said millions of women who help raise children and care for aging parents deserve the ability to join a union. And to help make progress on issues like pay equity.

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

The justices are expected to announce their decision soon.

In Harris v. Quinn, a group of non-union, state-employed care-givers argue that payment of mandatory union dues is forced political speech, which is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. The care-givers are represented by the National Right to Work Committee.

Under current 'agency shop' rules, a public-sector union's contract is required to cover everyone in the workplace, and automatically collect the dues needed to keep that contract in place.

According to Munt, without that provision, employees could become 'free riders' on the union's work. She predicted that would weaken the unions and, ultimately, other workplace protections.

"When women join unions, we gain a voice on the job," said Munt. "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."

According to Munt, 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 believes union representation is a vital part of making that happen.

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

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD