The United States Supreme Court affirmed today that unions may not force non members to fund political activities without permission.
The high court ruled 7-2 in Knox vs. SEIU that the Service Employees International Union violated the First Amendment rights of government employees in California by assessing them for the cost of two political campaigns without seeking their affirmative consent. The employees were part of an “agency shop” where all workers are represented by a union, but where employees could decline to join the union as long as they pay the union a fee to cover non-political expenses.
Unions are required to provide a so-called Hudson notice to non-members allowing them to opt-out of contributions to be used for political activities with which they disagree.
“There is no justification for the SEIU’s failure to provide a fresh Hudson notice. Hudson rests on the principle that nonmembers should not be required to fund a union’s political and ideological projects unless they choose to do so after having ‘a fair opportunity’ to assess the impact of paying for nonchargeable union activities,” Associated Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority.
“The SEIU’s procedure cannot be considered to have met Hudson’s requirement that fee-collection procedures be carefully tailored to minimize impingement on First Amendment rights."
The Court did not accept the SEIU’s broad definition of non-political activities that could be charged back to employees who elected not to join the union.
“First, the SEIU’s understanding of the breadth of chargeable expenses is so expansive that it is hard to place much reliance on its statistics. ‘Lobbying the electorate,’ which the SEIU claims is chargeable, is nothing more than another term for supporting political causes and candidates,” the decision states.
Alito was joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Sonya Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The Knox decision echoes a ruling in the private sector from the 1980s - Beck vs. Communication Workers of America - in which the Court ruled that objecting nonmembers may not be required to pay union dues. Rather, the Court found that objecting employees may only be compelled to pay an agency fee, an amount that encompasses only costs associated with collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment.