Employee unions provide important protections to public sector workers in California. However, a recent ruling has some commentators worried. Discover why.

For many readers, the need for employee labor unions may be self-evident. From the poetic narrative of John Steinbeck to recent media coverage of labor disputes, the plight of the unprotected worker against corporate America has become part of the American consciousness.

Admittedly, federal and state employment laws set minimum standards for fair pay andworking conditions. Yet enforcement of those workplace protections may be a different matter. An individual employee, fearful of jeopardizing the ability to provide for loved ones, may lack the leverage to negotiate or stand up for his or her rights.

LABOR UNIONS PROVIDE LEVERAGE IN EMPLOYMENT NEGOTIATIONS

Labor unions seek to even the playing field. Instead of an individual employee facing an employer’s potential retaliation, a group of employees can designate a union representative to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement and other terms of employment. A union representative can also advocate for an employee that has a grievance to file against a supervisor or who may have suffered an adverse employment action.

For small monthly union fees, many employees can receive the peace of mind that comes from union representation. However, some commentators question whether a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court might have upset the balance between employers and unions. Under aprevious judicial precedent, many categories of public sector employees were required to pay union or agency fees in exchange for their union’s representation. The instant ruling, Harris v Quinn, carved out an exception to that rule for home-care aides.

According to the opinion, home-care aides assigned to an ill or disabled patient might more properly be classified as partial public employees. Since Medicaid typically pays the wages of those aides, the opinion determined that they should not be subject to the same dues-paying requirement of other employees who work directly for a government employer.

PUBLIC EMPLOYEES AND FAIR-SHARE UNION FEES

Notably, the aides might still benefit from union representation, even without paying union fees. Yet there is no guarantee that unions will continue to bargain for such partial public employees in the future. Their plight might become that of some independent contractors, who might not benefit from all of the requirements and protections that apply to compensating employees.

The effect of this decision on America’s workplaces remains to be seen. Regardless of union status, however, a mistreated worker can benefit from a consultation with an employment lawyer. A lawyer can review a worker’s unique circumstances and explain the options that may be available, possibly working hand-in-hand with a union representative. Either way, the end goal is the same: striving for justice when workers are not treated fairly.

Keywords: employee unions, collective bargaining agreement, employment law, union fees, employee rights