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Supreme Court Ruling Could Harm New Homecare Union In Vermont

A decision from the U.S. Supreme Court Monday might have dealt a major financial setback to Vermont’s newest union.

The Supreme Court ruled that home health care workers in Illinois can’t be forced to pay dues to the union that negotiates their wages. The decision could have significant repercussions on a newly formed union in Vermont that represents about 7,000 home care workers.

The union is called Vermont Homecare United, and it signed its first collective bargaining agreement with the state of Vermont in late May. That contract allows the union to collect dues even from homecare providers who opt not to join, a provision that will likely have to be voided in light of the ruling handed down Monday.

Though Vermont Homecare United negotiates on behalf of 7,000 workers, only 800 have signed up for the union. Audra Rondeau, a homecare worker from Enosburg, says the inability to collect so-called “agency fees” from all homecare workers could force the union to cut back on some of the services it planned to provide.

“It’s going to hurt us on the classes we wanted to offer and the improvements we want to do in our field. It’s going to limit what we’re able to improve,” Rondeau said.

Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding says lawyers from the attorney general’s office are still reviewing the Supreme Court decision.

“At this stage of the game we don’t know for sure whether his decision will mean they cannot collect agency fees,” Spaulding said.

Spaulding said the ruling does not appear to affect public employees such as teachers, firefighters or state workers.

Spaulding said the contract inked by the state with homecare workers back on May 27 contemplates a Supreme Court ruling of the type that came out Monday. In the event of such a ruling, Spaulding said the two sides are to reconvene contract talks.

Rondeau said that while the ruling may result in some short-term revenue problems for Vermont Homecare United, she thinks that the union will eventually convince most of the state’s 7,000 homecare workers to join the union.

“And I think the more improvements that people see, the easier it’s going to be for people to get other people to sign up, to join in,” Rondeau said.

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