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Public Sector Unions Face New Reality After Supreme Court Ruling

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Public sector unions around the country are trying to come to grips with a new reality. This week, the Supreme Court ruled that the unions can no longer charge fees to employees who are not members of the union. California will likely see some of the biggest fallout from this decision. About 1.3 million people in the state belong to public sector unions. From member station KQED, Katie Orr reports.

KATIE ORR, BYLINE: As soon as the ruling came down from the Supreme Court, a coalition of public sector unions in California was ready with a response.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Applause).

ORR: In Sacramento, union organizers, members and supporters struck a defiant tone at a rally downtown.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM MORELLO SONG, "UNION TOWN")

ORR: Tom Morello's song "Union Town" played as teachers, firefighters and health care workers gathered around. Then, Sacramento labor leader Fabrizio Sasso took the mic.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

FABRIZIO SASSO: The labor movement marches forward with the same commitment and renewed vigor to stand together for all working people.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).

ORR: Workers spoke about the benefit unions have had in their lives. Betty Clark works at UC Davis Medical Center and is a member of AFSCME 3299.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

BETTY CLARK: Having a job with union protection means that I can retire and live the life of my dreams rather than work until I just die on the job.

ORR: Still, underneath the cheering and bravado, there is concern. Before the ruling, public unions could collect fees from nonunion employees who benefit from collective bargaining. Now they can't.

It's not clear how much money the unions will miss out on, but they've been preparing for a long time. Margarita Maldonado says this wasn't unexpected. She's a vice president with SEIU Local 1000 and says they've been reaching out to public employees for the past two years to encourage them to become union members.

MARGARITA MALDONADO: It's kind of sad, but really, how I'm thinking about it is this is our opportunity. This is our opportunity to make sure that our voices are being heard, that we are having the right kind of conversations with our communities.

ORR: But not everyone found the ruling sad.

JON COUPAL: I would have preferred a 6-3 decision, but we'll take a 5-4.

ORR: Jon Coupal is the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which advocates for efficient use of taxpayer dollars. He says public sector unions are currently the dominant political force in California.

COUPAL: This isn't going to change much overnight. But over time, for taxpayer advocates, it is the beginning of the leveling of the playing field.

ORR: Having anticipated the ruling, unions have been working to get legislation passed in California to help mitigate its impact. But Coupal says there's an army of lawyers ready to enforce the decision in the state. For NPR News, I'm Katie Orr in Sacramento.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIGNAL HILL'S "AMBER LANTERN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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