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Court decision could affect health care, right-to-work cases

The U.S. Supreme Court building
U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court

A U.S. Supreme Court decision that limits how unions can organize many workers who are paid with public money also upholds a two-year-old Michigan law. And it could have an effect on the ongoing litigation over home health care workers.

Unions saw an opportunity to increase their ranks by organizing home health care assistants – independent contractors, often family members, who provide home care for elderly people, patients in recovery, and children. 

Republicans in the Legislature outlawed mandatory union membership for publicly paid home health assistants in 2012. That same year, voters also rejected a ballot proposal to allow it.

“And this really settles the issue in Michigan and nationally,” said Patrick Wright. He’s an attorney with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which filed a lawsuit against the organizing effort. “The United States Supreme Court has looked at something that we said was illegal and said, yes, this is illegal across the entire country.”

The Mackinac Center is back in court trying to get the union to pay back dues money it collected. The case is before the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Unions may have found a silver lining in the court decision. The Supreme Court did not expressly outlaw agency fees – the money a union may charge workers who won’t pay dues for the costs of contract bargaining.

The Supreme Court upheld agency fees in 1977 in a case involving the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

Michigan’s right-to-work law banned agency fees for most workers. But unions are in court arguing that doesn’t apply to state Civil Service employees because they operate under a separate set of rules under the Michigan Constitution. A Supreme Court decision that expressly banned agency fees would have damaged the unions’ case.  

The state’s position is there is no exception for the Civil Service under the right-to-work law.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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