By George J. Miller
In a case that glaringly showed how unions are willing to advance their political agenda at the expense (literally!) of the employees they represent, today the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the employees. The case is Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000. The Court held that the First Amendment prohibits a public-sector union from requiring objecting non-members to pay a special fee for the purpose of financing the union’s political and ideological activities.
In this case, the union represented a bargaining unit of California state employees. In 2005, then Governor Schwarzenegger called a special election on two measures which the union opposed. The union wanted to raise $12 million to use in opposing these ballot measures, including “television and radio advertising, direct mail, voter registration, voter education, and get out the vote activities.” The union raised the money by imposing a special assessment on the employees it represented, including both members of the union and non-members. The union did not seek advance approval from employees for the assessment, and employees did not have a choice whether or not to pay it. Unhappy about this, a group of non-union employees who paid into the fund sued, alleging a violation of their First Amendment rights.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said: “This aggressive use of power by the SEIU to collect fees from nonmembers is indefensible . . . . Therefore, when a public-sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union . . . may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent.”