Washington, D.C., June 21, 2012 – The United States Supreme Court today, in a 7-2 decision, ruled against labor unions forcing unwilling workers to subsidize political speech and activism with which they may disagree. In Knox v. SEIU, the Court ruled that the Service Employees International Union must allow workers to op-in to special short-term assessments for political advocacy. Nor can the union charge “interim assessments” to employees who previously objected to such an assessment.
The court ruled 7-2 on the merits of the case, and issued a 5-4 majority opinion that takes an extremely solid position on workers’ First Amendment rights vis-à-vis unions.
The justification for permitting a union to collect fees from nonmembers—to prevent them from free-riding on the union’s efforts—is an anomaly. Similarly, requiring objecting non members to opt out of paying the non chargeable portion of union dues - rather than exempting them unless they opt in – represents a remarkable boon for unions, creating a risk that the fees nonmembers pay will be used to further political and ideological ends with which they do not agree.
CEI Labor Policy Counsel Vincent Vernuccio said: “Today the Supreme Court issued a victory for the First Amendment rights of workers around the country. Workers will no longer be forced to give compelled interest free loans for union politics. The court affirmed that freedom of association and free speech means you cannot be compelled to fund causes with which you disagree.”
CEI Labor Policy Analyst Ivan Osorio said: “The Court’s ruling is a significant victory for workers’ First Amendment rights of free speech. Lawmakers, at both the state and federal level, should take a cue from it and reaffirm workers’ First Amendment rights of free association by doing away with unions’ ability to force employees to pay for representation they may not want from a union they have chosen not to join.”
In the dispute before the court, the unions had imposed a $12 million special assessment on its California public sector members for political campaigning.