Unanimous Court sides with union in legal-fees case

By The Associated Press
01.21.09

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the right of a local public employees' union to force government workers who are not union members to pay a share of legal fees.

Today’s ruling in a case from Maine involves a small fraction of the fee that local affiliates pay to national unions for litigation that may not directly benefit the locals. The ruling is Locke v. Karass.

The Maine State Employees Union represents workers in contract negotiations with the state. The Court has previously held that people who choose not to join the union still must pay fees to the union because they too are covered by collective bargaining.

But there are some activities, including politics and lobbying, for which unions may not charge nonmembers. The question for the Court was whether national litigation costs are among the forbidden charges.

State workers who are not union members sued in federal court. A U.S. District judge and the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state. The high court affirmed those rulings today in an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer.