Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled in Harris v. Quinn that partial public employees can not be required to pay union dues even if they are receiving the benefits of collective bargaining.The decision was 5-4 with conservative Justice Samuel Alito writing for the majority.

Though it did not destroy public sector unions it could cripple them by threatening a key source of revenue. A non-full time public sector worker would be able to enjoy the benefits and protections gained by the union without ever having to pay for it.

Though many feared the ruling could have been worse.

The conservative majority on the Supreme Court on Monday signaled its distaste for state laws requiring public-sector workers to pay union dues — but stopped short of sweeping them away, handing organized labor a partial victory in a contentious case.

By a 5-4 vote, the justices ruled in Harris v. Quinn that home health care workers in Illinois cannot be compelled to financially support a union they don’t wish to join. Illinois is one of 26 states that require public-sector workers — such as firefighters, police officers and teachers — to pay partial dues, often known as “agency fees,” to the unions that negotiate their contracts and represent them in grievances, even if the employees find the union’s advocacy work distasteful.

The attack on public sector unions has ramped up in recent years culminating in a major showdown in Wisconsin with Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to end collective bargaining for public sector employees. Conservatives across the country have attempted to make public sector unions the villains for a stagnant economy that was initially brought to its knees by Wall Street. Many conservatives believe public sector unions are inherently corrupt.

With the Supreme Court damaging their revenue and conservative governors attacking their right to organize, public sector unions will have to struggle just to survive.

Photo by 350z33 under Creative Commons license.