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Opponents of Minnesota union drives hail ruling

  • Article by: BRIAN BAKST
  • Associated Press
  • June 30, 2014 - 3:51 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Bolstered by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday that limits organized labor's power to collect compulsory dues, the lead plaintiff in a parallel Minnesota lawsuit urged Gov. Mark Dayton to have state lawyers stand down and ultimately cancel a pair of drives to unionize home-based day care and health care workers.

Rochester day care operator Jennifer Parrish suggested the Democratic governor had little chance to prevail after the nation's top court decided that thousands of home health care workers in Illinois who are "partial-public employees" cannot be required to pay fees that help cover a union's costs of collective bargaining. Although the workers receive state subsidies to care for clients, they aren't considered full-fledged state employees and therefore don't have to pay dues if they don't join a union, the conservative-led court ruled in a 5-4 decision.

"The two cases are nearly identical, which gives us hope that the ruling today sets the legal precedent needed to permanently enjoin this unconstitutional scheme once and for all," Parrish said at a news conference. She was flanked by Republican legislators who resisted the law's passage in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

In a prepared statement, Dayton blasted Monday's ruling and offered no sign of retreat.

"By a 5-4 vote the court has voted to roll back the cause of civil rights in America," he said. "For decades the right to organize has been an accepted mainstream principle in American society. If people can't vote for themselves to decide if they want to join a union or not, that's just not democracy."

The Minnesota lawsuit brought by 11 home day care operators is challenging a 2013 state law that could eventually give two unions the exclusive right to represent them and personal care attendants in negotiations with the state over subsidy reimbursement rates, training and working conditions. A ruling in the case was on hold pending the high court's ruling in the Illinois case.

Parrish said the ruling on dues was only a partial victory. If the Minnesota law isn't overturned and the unions move ahead, it could still give them the right to bargain for certain conditions — such as child-to-staff ratios — that might be binding on members and nonmembers alike.

The four Republican contenders vying to challenge Dayton in November hailed the decision, accusing Dayton of subjecting small business owners to an organization drive. Businessman Scott Honour argued that Dayton was "working at the behest of union bosses" when he signed the law, while Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson alleged that allowing the organization push was "naked political payback" to Dayton's labor supporters.

The state chapters of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union are the two unions that have taken organizing initial steps for home-based day cares and personal care attendants respectively.

In a statement issued through SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, home health care workers in favor of a union said they were determined to keep going.

"This ruling will not stop the home care workers in Minnesota who are joining together to form a union to raise our wages, have a voice on the job and improve conditions in the health care field," said Sumer Spika, a home care worker from St. Paul.

AFSCME Council 5 director Eliot Seide said the decision won't stop the organizing campaign. "We won't rest until every worker has a voice on the job," he said.

© 2014 Star Tribune