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You Can't Make Me Pay for That!

Volume 11, Issue 7
June 22, 2012

On June 21, 2012, the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Knox v. Service Employees International Union Local 1000, No. 10-1121, held that a California local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) violated the First Amendment free speech rights of certain public employees in California.  Specifically, the SEIU, without providing appropriate notice, imposed a mid-year special assessment on both union member and non-member bargaining unit employees to be used for several political purposes, including campaign support for political candidates "who support public employees and the services they provide."  Unlike Nevada, which is a right-to-work state, California law allows public-sector employees by majority vote to create an "agency shop" arrangement in which all employees are represented by a union.  Employees who choose not to join the union must nevertheless pay an annual fee for "chargeable expenses" related to the union's collective bargaining services.  However, non-member employees may not be required to fund the union's political or ideological projects.  In order to protect the constitutional rights of non-member employees, unions must provide notice to such non-members regarding the basis for the fees and provide an opportunity for said employees to challenge the amount of the fee.In this case, when the SEIU made the mid-year assessment to fund its political causes, non-member employees were not given proper notice nor any choice as to whether they would have to pay into the fund.  In rejecting the SEIU's position, the Supreme Court found that the "aggressive use of power by the SEIU to collect fees from nonmembers [was] indefensible" and represented a substantial infringement on the free speech rights of non-member employees.  Consequently, the Supreme Court held that before a public-sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union must first provide the appropriate notice to employees and may not exact any funds from non-member employees without their affirmative consent.  While the Supreme Court's decision will have greater impact on employees in non-right-to-work states who face similar funding tactics by unions, the Court's decision highlights for all employees some of the attendant pitfalls and abuses that accompany attempts by unions to place their political and ideological interests above those of the employees they represent.  The decision also confirms that unions should not be allowed to trounce the constitutional rights of the employees they represent.

Employer Report articles are for general information only; they are not intended and should not be construed to be legal advice. Reading or replying to such articles does not establish an attorney-client relationship. In addition, because the subject matters and applicable laws discussed in Employer Report articles are often in a state of change and not always applicable to every type of business entity or organization, readers should consult with counsel before making decisions based on the same.