Supreme Court union ruling ripples in Vermont

A U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday called into question a key aspect of collective bargaining for the public sector in Vermont.

Voting 5-4, a majority of justices decided to narrowly limit the ability of unions to charge administrative fees to nonmembers. Public sector unions can charge the fees, the justices ruled, but only to “full-fledged state employees.”

The ruling is seminal as unions around the country have attempted to organize home health care workers, child care providers and other groups who receive state payments on behalf of subsidized clients, but who are not considered state employees.

The case didn’t involve Vermont directly. It dealt with unionized home health care workers in Illinois. But, a clause in at least one similar contract in Vermont is based on the same notion that the high court ruled unconstitutional.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

Writing for the majority in Harris v. Quinn, Justice Samuel Alito said that “except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issued a statement hours later condemning the decision as “another attack on the rights of workers to collectively bargain for higher wages and decent benefits.”

Some Vermont union organizers say they are disappointed, but not daunted, by the ruling.

“This is a bad decision,” Vermont-NEA spokesperson Darren Allen said. “But it didn’t go as far as what a lot of us feared it might.”

The court could have overturned a precedent-setting case from 1977 that upholds the constitutionality of agency fees for public sector employees, he said. It was a silver lining Sanders also traced in his statement, yet one Alito signaled could come under greater scrutiny in the future.

Alito was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Justice Elena Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

What it means for Vermont

Vermont’s home health care workers, who recently entered their first contract period, and child care providers, who are in early stages or organizing, both intend to forge ahead.

“The rights of these folks to decide to form a union is not in question. So they’re moving on with that,” said Ben Johnson, president of United Professions AFT Vermont.

AFT is hoping to unionize child care providers in the state, who just won the right to organize in the 2014 legislative session with the passage of Act 187 (S.316).

Act 187 sets administrative fees — also called “agency” or “fair share” fees — as a mandatory subject of collective bargaining between the state and any child care providers’ union that may form. The law doesn’t require administrative fees, in other words; it says the parties should negotiate whether there should be a fee and if so, what it should be.

Lobbyist John Hollar represented the YMCA of Greater Burlington in its opposition to S.316, on the grounds that collective bargaining would unfairly disrupt the industry.

Hollar said the court’s decision is clear. “They will not extend the reasoning for agency fees that applies to state employees to anyone other than full-fledged state employees,” Hollar said.

“The home health care workers and child care providers attempted to stretch that — to say, for the purposes of collective bargaining, (they) should be considered state employees and therefore (the union) can impose agency fees,” Hollar said. “The Supreme Court very clearly rejected that.”

Johnson wasn’t willing to give up altogether on the option of charging agency fees, however. He said the union’s legal team will examine Harris v. Quinn for any specific implications on their own negotiations on behalf of the child care providers.

Audra Rondeau, a home health care worker from Enosburgh and a member of the collective bargaining unit for Vermont Homecare United, represented by AFSCME, said she didn’t think Monday’s Supreme Court decision posed a problem for the fledgling group.

“I think once people see the improvements, they’re going to sign on,” Rondeau said, even though constituents technically could benefit from collective bargaining without paying for it.

Rondeau said the unit already has set up classes for skills training and professional development throughout the year, in addition to the hourly wage raises they’ve negotiated.

“The fair share (ruling) is disappointing,” Rondeau said. “People set their priorities and if this is something people believe, they are going to sign on. I’m really not concerned.”

Johnson is more apprehensive. He suggested the opposition to “fair share” fees is a strategic attack to undermine unions, after anti-labor groups found a “full frontal attack” hasn’t worked in recent years.

“Now, instead of the union being able to put its energy toward winning gains … you have to take some fraction of your capacity, and put that toward signing up people who now have the option to be free riders,” Johnson said about the impact of the ruling. “It drains their capacity to fight back.”

Vermont Homecare United represents between 7,000 and 7,500 home health care workers, Rondeau estimated. So far, the unit has signed about 800 members in a few weeks of organizing, she said.

Hilary Niles


  1. patrick cashman :

    Vermont Homecare United represents between 7,000 and 7,500 home health care workers, Rondeau estimated. So far, the unit has signed about 800 members in a few weeks of organizing, she said.

    So…about 800 them?

  2. Wayne Andrews :

    Sounds like all the dollar sucking liberals are mad. Boo-hoo! They can know longer charge people for something they do not use.

    • David Bresett :

      People that waste money are called Republicans. Check your facts before speaking.

      • Cheryl Pariseau :

        David Bresett… Please check your facts… People that waste money are call politicians! The Democrats and Republicans both waste taxpayer money just in different ways. This us (Dems) against them (Repubs) mentality really works in their favor because it takes the taxpayers mind off of the real issues.

      • Glenn Thompson :

        LMAO! Vermont is controlled by Democrats and Progressives David! Nobody can waste a $dollar better than a Progressive and a Democrat! Would you like me to spend several hours posting articles and facts to back up my opinion?

  3. Paul Richards :

    “Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issued a statement hours later condemning the decision as “another attack on the rights of workers to collectively bargain for higher wages and decent benefits.””
    More like an attack on his gravy train of union money supporting his perpetual spot on the list of poster children for term limits.
    Once again the liberals in Vermont have proven they are out of step with reality; people do not want unions shoved down their throats nor do the taxpayers want any more taxation without representation which is exactly what public sector unions represent. While the Supreme Court hears cases like this and other states reverse course, Vermont embraces this unfair coercion. They will not give up until they shove their dirty tentacles into every part of our lives they can and the liberals will be happy to aid and abet them as they line their pockets and grab even more power. They have no business sticking their noses into the lives of private homecare workers but the lure of increasing their take of dirty union money is too tempting for them. To them union money and taxpayer money is like crack to an addict. They just can’t say no.

    • David Bresett :

      Bernie speaks at face value, only Republicans never say what they mean. Get it right.

      • Paul Richards :

        Dave, I have some oceanfront property for sale in Swanton, you interested?

  4. Jamie Carter :

    The ruling unfortunately was limited in it’s scope. It would have been a catastrophe for unions if ALL employees had the right to choose whether to pay dues to unions to represent them or not.

  5. Paul Lutz :

    Unbelievable that Sanders rallied against the decision. Why didn’t VT digger give the facts of the case?? This was about a MOTHER being forced to pay union dues to take care of her SON in THEIR home. The family receives Medicade and the union wanted their cut. The mother would be forced to take money from her sons care and give it to the union!!!!!!!! Sanders is against the decision???? How could anybody be against the courts ruling????

    • Curtis Sinclair :

      I know. That’s what I heard. That was nothing but greed by the union. They shoot themselves in the foot when they do things like that. Then they have to get laws passed to force people to pay dues. VSEA is like that. They make state employees pay dues and then can refuse to represent them in legitimate grievances. It’s no wonder that right to work laws are spreading all over the country. It would stop if unions would be less greedy and act more responsibly.

    • David Bresett :

      This is only about Vermont registered day care.

  6. Paul Lutz :

    Obama Care was passed by 5-4 and it was proclaimed “settled law”

    This 5-4 decsion is called “narrow”

    More propaganda!!!!

  7. Janette Dumont :

    “Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issued a statement hours later condemning the decision as “another attack on the rights of workers to collectively bargain for higher wages and decent benefits.””

    Well, Mr Sanders and everyone else that thinks this is “taking away rights” of the people who wish to unionize, it isn’t! They still can join a union! Simply put, this is giving RIGHTS to both sides of the spectrum. I do not wish to join a union, nor do I wish to pay “agency fees” to said union.

    I do however, find it funny that people, including Mr Sanders keep saying that we would be bargaining for “higher wages and better benefits”…IF and when said union was successful in raising subsidy reimbursement, it would not raise my income by a dime. On the contrary, my income would be LOWERED because of the dues I had to pay out of my income. And this union for child care providers, isn’t providing a SINGLE “benefit” to me. No health insurance, no retirement fund, no unemployment should my families all decide to pull their children, no disability if I become injured and can not care for my children, nothing! There are no benefits to providers being provided by joining this union.

    I’ve said since day one, let those who want to, join, and those who don’t, not join. That is what this supreme court decision has done. I am sitting at 90 hours of professional development for the year, I have open lines of communication with the CDD, VB3, and my local resource center. AND to raise the subsidy rates for my families on subsidy, I have just attained my third STAR, making my parent’s co-pays much lower, yet not costing me a dime for any dues or agency fees. Everything the union “promises” we already have at our fingertips, so I am, for one, grateful to the US Supreme Court for their ruling!

    So again, I will state: There are no RIGHTS being taken from anyone who wishes to be unionized as a child care provider, or home health care provider, it just keeps the RIGHTS for those of us who don’t!

  8. Deb Thayer :

    “Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issued a statement hours later condemning the decision as “another attack on the rights of workers to collectively bargain for higher wages and decent benefits.”” What is being taken away from these supposed “workers” who want to unionize? These workers are small business owners who operate out of their homes. They are not fighting big business, not fighting for anything except their right NOT to unionize or pay union dues.
    Leave me alone, let me register with the state, serve my clients , pay my taxes , pay my employee and make my own little business work.
    I am all for unions for workers in business not for business owners!
    For those registered home childcares that want to be in a union fine, go for it, but don’t force me to join, or pay money so you can!

    • Dave Bellini :

      “..let those who want to, join, and those who don’t, not join..”
      Let’s go with that…. Let’s apply that to the subsidies as well. I don’t want to pay for someone else’s baby sitter so my tax dollars should not go to pay you. Like you, I don’t want to “join.” Let’s get the tax payers out of this totally. You can charge what you want and anyone that can pay, get’s your services. I don’t want my tax dollars propping up all these independent business owners. NO GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT. The nay-sayers should be lobbying the legislature to END childcare subsidies. I agree with Janette that people should be free to choose. I don’t want to “join” the subsidizers.

      • patrick cashman :

        Just to be clear Dave; you’re equating assistance provided to allow working families to afford childcare with the ability of unions, and their highly paid courtiers, to sup at the oublic trough at will?

  9. Glenn Thompson :

    As I travel around Chittenden County, I’ve noticed many daycare signs by the road. For those daycare facilities who DO NOT want to have anything to do with joining this union….they can add to their advertisement, “We are not a union daycare provider”. If I was in need of a daycare provider…the first question to be asked would be “Do you belong to the union”?

  10. John Brabant, Calais, VT :

    Mr. Sinclair neglects to mention that he is a VT State Employee who collects ALL of the benefits that accrue to him, despite his attacks on the VSEA, the very labor union that won him and continues to fight on his behalf for these benefits. He might do well to ask his legislative representatives if VSEA has had any role in his keeping is benefits intact, which include a competitive and livable hourly wage, a defined benefit retirement plan (pension), high quality healthcare, sick days, vacation days, personal days and defined work hours. Mr. Sinclair only needs to then look at one of the “temporary workers” that he works beside and ask them what their wage and benefits are. While the state if fully able to provide all of the above benefits to temporary or contract employees it hires, it chooses not to. Does he really think the state would provide all of these benefits in a time of tough budgeting were it not required to do so by contract??!! My expectation due to his vehemence that he is what Justice Scalia in his decision termed a “free-rider”. Enjoy the summer vacation VSEA won for you Mr. Sinclair.

  11. Curtis Sinclair :

    I know this is more than a bit off topic, but since I have been attacked I am going to respond. People in non unionized jobs get pensions, vacation time, and sick time. I was a temporary worker once. I did a good job for a year and then became a full time permanent worker. I don’t see anything wrong with a system like that. I knew a lot of people at VSH would could not get permanent status because they were terrible employees. Then I saw the VSEA doing all it could to defend people who were stealing or abusing patients at the hospital while refusing to defend hard workers when they were victimized by poor management. Why do you think patients DIED and millions of dollars were wasted at the Vermont State Hospital? That union -the VSEA -has blood on it’s hands imo. Unions have always opposed the civil and human rights of the mentally ill.

    Another thing – I WAS a VSEA member when I reported serious corruption and payroll fraud at VSH. I was then unjustly put on paid administrative leave for 6 months before I was laid off. The VSEA REFUSED to help me in a grievance to get the suspension taken off my record. I had to pay my lawyer thousands to win my grievance and get the suspension expunged. THAT is the main reason I oppose mandatory fees. The unions often don’t hold up their end of the deal. The VSEA is the free rider because they refuse to defend many hard working honest employees. And they negotiate a contract that only favors the lazy. State employees get more vacation time sick time and personal time that they can even use. Instead of negotiating for more pay to attract the best and brightest to state government they want to force the state to hire more and more people that can create unsustainable growth in government. In the long run it could end up being like municipal government in bankrupt Detroit where people are in danger of losing their pensions.

  12. Paul Lutz :

    Again, just to be clear. Bernie Sanders, the self proclaimed spokeman for the “little people” opposes this ruling. He had two choices;

    Side with the Mother and agree that she should not be forced to pay union dues to care for her own son in her own home.

    Or, side with the union that would force a Mother to pay unio dues to care for her son in her own home.

    AMAZING!!!! Bernie is a fraud.

    • Curtis Sinclair :

      That’s not fair. This is a complex issue, but unfortunately politics boils down to only simplistic black vs white fear-mongering. That’s not Bernie’s fault. He has to play the game the way its set up.

      • Paul Richards :

        “That’s not Bernie’s fault. He has to play the game the way its set up.”
        More like; he has to play the game the way he is paid to play it rather than do what is right for the taxpayers he is supposed to represent. We need term limits to get rid of people like that.

  13. Paul Lutz :


    The mother had to go all the way to the supreme court for justice.

    My account is spot on. The facts are the facts, and Mr. Sanders is against the outcome, period.

    • Michael Bayer :

      Let’s be really clear…The mother did not have to do anything. The anti union businesses, who could not have cared less about her, were just looking for a case, and paid the money it was necessary to get to the Supreme Court.
      And while we are being really clear, who do you think got Medicaid expanded to pay for family members to get paid for taking care of their family members? Progressives, especially unions, who support legislation that helps people.
      It is always interesting that those who attack unions, poor people, social programs, etc. have a sad story to tell about how they were “hurt” by one of the above.
      Let’s really be clear. The attacks on the union movement, beginning with Reagan, and financed by big businessmen like the Koch brothers, have resulted in wages being worth less today than they were thirty years ago in real terms.
      Those of you who are cheering this decision should be honest and admit that you think that is a good thing.

  14. David Dempsey :

    Bernie Sanders is Vermont’s socialist Senator from Brooklyn (New York), not to be confused with Brookline, (Vermont). By definition, socialism starts in a capitalistic society and the goal is end capitalism and take complete social control of the economy and also control the production of goods and services that are currently produced by private industries. If and when that is accomplished the once capitalist country is now a socialist country. The next step is to move toward a higher level of socialism. This higher level is called communism (look it up). Based on recent history, in my opinion communism hasn’t been the best form of goverment over the long haul.

    • Fred Woogmaster :

      Many good things have come about, Mr. Dempsey, through the analysis of past unsuccessful experiences and the application of new ideas.

      Capitalism is a proven economic system.
      Social democracy is a proven social system.

      Neither is “the fault”.

      A fusion, Mr. Dempsey, might revitalize our democratic process; unless it’s too late!

      • David Dempsey :

        Did I say anything about either socialism or capitalism being better or worse than the other? No I did not. I didn’t say that one or the other is “the fault.” I gave an opinion on communism, not socialism and or capitalism. Please reply to the things I said, not what I didn’t say.

        • Fred Woogmaster :

          Thank you for your response, Mr. Dempsey.

          My comment was intended to address the ‘spirit’ of your statement, not your words.

          I stand by the ‘spirit’ of my comment as I stand by the words I employed; no disrespect intended.

          • David Dempsey :

            I’m glad that you were addressing the “spirit of my statement” and not my words. But I have no idea what you are talking about. I don’t recall having a particular spirit when I wrote the comment. But I respect your opinions and I thank you for your friendly reply.



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