Supreme Court Restricts Union Process on Non-Member Fees

June 21, 2012; Source: Los Angeles Times

In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that unions must notify non-union employees in advance of any move to collect additional dues to be used for political purposes. The case, Knox vs. SEIU, focused on whether the Service Employees International Union violated the constitutional rights of some of those that it represents when it collected mid-year fees in order to wage a political campaign against two ballot measures seen as anti-union that were proposed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Justice Samuel Alito, who voted with the majority, wrote that unions must get the nod from non-union employees at organizations where the union acts as a bargaining agent prior to putting their dues toward political purposes lest such funds be spent on political stances that the non-union employees may not, in fact, support. In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Elena Kagan said the majority had the requirement backwards—that is, that those represented by unions should be given the chance to “opt out” of such fees but that the union should not be required to make sure that they “opt in.”

American University law professor Susan Carle described the decision as “an interesting contrast to [the Supreme Court’s] other opinions in the line of Citizens United where the court is making it much easier for corporations to spend money on political purposes without much accountability to their shareholders at all. It’s a very interesting un-leveling of the playing field quite deliberately.” Do you agree with the Court’s decision, and if so, do you think the same principal should apply to corporations? –Mike Keefe-Feldman