Union leaders say they don’t expect members to opt out after Supreme Court ruling

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A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court affects tens of thousands of Hawaii government union workers. It means non-union workers cannot be forced to pay fees to public service unions.

The high court’s decision reverses a law that’s been in effect for more than 40 years.  KHON2 spoke with union leaders who say they don’t expect a lot of their members to opt out.

The ruling affects all union government workers for the state and county. HGEA is the largest public sector union in Hawaii with nearly 30,000 members. The executive director says workers who decide not to pay union dues will still get the health benefits and raises negotiated by HGEA. He expects some will do that but not many.

“I’m pretty confident that a great majority of people, not only in HGEA but in other public sector unions in Hawaii, will remain members because they see the value of it,” said HGEA executive director Randy Perreira.

Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, who is also long time labor union attorney, says Hawaii workers still see the value of the services provided by unions and would not want to get a free ride.

“I think Hawaii is, just the way many of us have been raised, that’s not something that people would do. They won’t just take the benefit and not pay for it,” she said.

The governor expressed disappointment in the ruling and points out that there are still questions on how it will work.

“We understand that the Supreme Court is the court of the land and we are evaluating what the decision means and how we will implement it,” said Gov. David Ige.

Hanabusa points out that it might come down to workers paying ala carte for different services by the union.

“You can charge for specific services as long as it isn’t a blanket percentage of whatever the, quote unquote, the members pay,” said Congresswoman Hanabusa.

Union leaders add that they will put more emphasis on letting members know where their union dues are going.

“We just have to learn how to approach it a different way now to educate our members,” said Malcolm Lutu, president of SHOPO, the police officers’ union.

It could take months before all this is implemented as specifics need to be worked out between the unions and the state and county. We’ll follow up and ask the unions if their membership numbers drop.

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