WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to step into a dispute over a labor union’s use of fees paid by non-union employees to finance the labor organization’s court battles in other states.

Twenty state workers in Maine are challenging the expenditure by the labor union that bargains on their behalf.

The nonmembers are required to pay a service fee for the union’s collective bargaining efforts and contract administration.

The Service Employees International Union relies on portions of the fees to subsidize lawsuits concerning SEIU units other than Local 1989 to which the 20 current and former state employees belong.

At issue is whether a state can condition public employment on the paying of fees for such purposes.

The case is the latest instance of the justices addressing issues that could erode the power of labor unions.

Last June, the court ruled that states may force public sector labor unions to get consent from workers before using their fees for political activities.

Three months ago, the court agreed to decide the validity of a state law that limits employers’ ability to weigh in on union organizing.

Tim Belcher, executive directior of the Maine State Employees’ Union, the SEIU local involved in the case, said he was not surprised by the court’s action and looks forward to presenting the union’s case.

“We’re very confident we’re right because case law up to now has been very strong on our side,” Belcher said. He added that the case addresses only a tiny portion of the fees.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which brought the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, said the ruling “may provide much-needed clarity to the criteria it had established previously that determine what union activities employees can be lawfully forced to fund.”

The case is Locke v. Karass, state controller, 07-610.

AP-ES-02-19-08 1512EST

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