Supreme Court

Union Shutdown

1st Amendment vs. big labor

|

In California and other states without right-to-work laws, nonunion state workers must pay dues to cover collective bargaining and other basic union activities but not to fund political activism. In 2005 the California branch of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) nevertheless levied a special fee to fund several political campaigns in California without providing sufficient advance notice to nonmembers, essentially leaving those nonunion workers who did not want to participate with no recourse but to seek a refund of their money after the fact.

Those actions were unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June. "Public-sector unions have the right under the First Amendment to express their views on political and social issues without government interference," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority in Knox v. Service Employees International Union. "But employees who choose not to join a union have the same rights.…To respect the limits of the First Amendment, the union should have sent out a new notice allowing nonmembers to opt in to the special fee rather than requiring them to opt out." In a notable twist, liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg also ruled against the SEIU, although they did so on narrower grounds.