A ruling by the Supreme Court last week continues years of rulings by the Court which have reined in the ability of labor unions to collect funds for political activities from workers. Last week's ruling in the case of Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000 continues that trend, calling into question a union practice of collecting the money from workers for political activities.
In the Knox ruling, the Court held that the method used by the service employees' union to collect special fees for campaigning against two referendum questions in California in 2005 violated those workers First Amendment free speech rights. The court issued two rulings on separate issues in the lawsuit:
- In a 7-2 ruling, the court concluded that the union did not give proper notice to non-union members before making the deductions.
- In a 5-4 ruling, the court ruled that the method used by the union to allow non-union members in the state's "agency shop" workplaces to "opt out" of such special fees was insufficient to protect their First Amendment rights, ruling that non-members should be sent a notice giving them the chance to "opt in" to the special fees.
The case was initiated by eight California civil servants in response to a 2005 "special assessment" imposed by SEIU officials to raise money to campaign against four ballot proposals, including one that would have revoked public employee unions' special privilege of using forced fees for politics unless an employee consents. The plaintiffs argued that employees who refrained from union membership who were forced to pay union dues as part of the state's agency shop workplaces were given no chance to opt out of paying the SEIU's political assessments.