The Supreme Court has just issued a landmark 7-2 ruling that reaffirms the rights of nonunion employees to opt out of paying for union political activism. The case stems from a lawsuit filed by eight California civil servants, who received free assistance from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys.
For those of you unfamiliar with our byzantine system of labor laws, workers in 27 non-Right to Work states can be — and regularly are — forced to pay union dues or fees if their workplace is unionized. However, Foundation-won Supreme Court precedent guarantees that nonunion employees cannot be forced to subsidize union politics.
In 2005, SEIU Local 1000 operatives in California tried to get around this prohibition by imposing a special assessment on all public employees in their bargaining unit – including the nonunion ones – to pay for a union “political fight back fund” aimed at defeating several ballot initiatives.
The SEIU’s scheme was clearly unconstitutional, and in 2008, a federal district court ruled that union officials must provide a notice to nonunion employees about the assessment, allow them to opt-out of paying into the union political fund, provide a refund of monies spent on union politics, and pay interest from the dates of the deductions to nonmembers who chose to opt out. After a Ninth Circuit panel reversed the decision in 2010, the Supreme Court finally stepped in and ruled the SEIU’s scheme unconstitutional.
The High Court’s decision is a critical check on union efforts to circumvent nonunion employees’ constitutional rights. If SEIU operatives had gotten away with this scheme, other unions would have quickly adopted their methods, funneling more dues from unwilling (and often unwitting) nonunion employees into Big Labor’s massive political war chest.
Fortunately for employees everywhere, the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling and reaffirmed the protections nonmember employees have against being forced to pay for union boss politics. A five-member majority of the Justices (Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas) ruled that union officials not only need to issue a new notice when increasing dues, but that they must obtain affirmative consent from nonmember employees before they can charge them for any part of the increase.
Thanks to the efforts of eight courageous California civil servants, the SEIU’s “indefensible” fundraising scheme not only failed to pass constitutional muster, it may also lead to an expansion of nonunion employees’ protections going forward. But unscrupulous union bosses will continue to look for ways to collect more forced dues to elect pliant politicians and protect their government-granted special privileges. The ultimate solution to Big Labor’s collections racket is Right to Work protections for all employees, which would ensure that, while workers may voluntarily join a union, they cannot be forced to pay any dues to get or keep a job.