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Supreme Court considers fees paid to public-employee unions

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Smith replied that the difference is that the non-members are being required to pay only for collective bargaining that benefits all the workers.

Alito wondered about a young person who was not concerned about pensions, but the unions making that a priority.

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"So that employee who’s not a member of the union has to pay for the union to bargain with the state to achieve something that’s contrary to that person’s interest," Alito said. "But you say that person is a free rider."

Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to think that because the workers are paid with federal and state Medicaid money, that might be considered lobbying on a political issue.

While the justices spent almost all of the argument on the broader questions of public employee collective bargaining, the court has narrower ways to decide the case. The nonunion members also contend that they are not lawfully classified as state employees, and should not be part of the collective-bargaining unit.

The case is Harris v. Quinn.

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