ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A federal appeals court panel declined Thursday to overturn a new union for thousands of Minnesota personal care attendants who assist the disabled and elderly in home-based settings.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in one of two legal challenges to the unionization. It upheld a lower court judge’s ruling that workers had the right to form a union and assess fees on those who join voluntarily.

It’s a blow to a group of health workers who opposed the Service Employees International Union drive, arguing that they shouldn’t have been allowed to unionize some 27,000 workers who aren’t full-fledged public employees. Those opponents have said the push threatens their right of free association by potentially forcing them to pay dues to a union they don’t want to be in.

Supporters of the union argued it would stabilize an industry plagued by low pay and high turnover, and that participation and dues aren’t mandatory. In January, they reached a contract with the state that provides a minimum $11 hourly wage as well as funding for training and paid time off.

In Thursday’s ruling, the appeals judges said the union doesn’t violate preexisting contracts care workers have with clients who pay using Medicaid money.

A separate case involving First Amendment association rights of home-care workers hasn’t been decided.

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)