PUBLIC SECTOR UNION’S STRONG-ARM ATTEMPT DASHED BY EMPLOYEES’ FREE SPEECH RIGHTS

The United States Supreme Court recently chastised a public sector union’s attempt to force non-member employees to subsidize its political aspirations.  Many public sector employers are parties to collective bargaining agreements which include an agency shop provision.  At first blush, these agency shop provisions might appear to require public sector employees to become union members (and thus pay full union dues) as a condition of continued employment.  However, that is not exactly the case.  Over 25 years ago the United States Supreme Court ruled in Teachers v. Hudson that public sector employees have the First Amendment right to refrain from subsidizing the political speech of unions.  Thus, public sector employees can only be required to pay a fraction of total union dues; i.e., a fee corresponding to the money actually expended on collective bargaining activities.  Based on Hudson, public sector unions are required to issue a yearly notice that provides employees the opportunity to “opt-out” from providing any funds toward the unions’ political activities.   

In Knox et. al., v. SEIU, Local 1000, SEIU union crafted a canny scheme to avoid its obligations under Hudson.  Shortly after it issued a yearly Hudson notice, the SEIU issued a special assessment geared at raising funds necessary to implement an attack against certain specified political measures.  The SEIU provided a notice to all affected individuals; however, the notice did not provide another opt-out provision allowing an individual to object and refrain from paying for the SEIU’s political agenda. 

The Supreme Court easily determined that the SEIU’s “special assessment” violated the public employees’ First Amendment right to refrain from supporting the union’s political viewpoints.  Importantly, the Court determined that where a union issues a special assessment or a similar specific increase in dues, a mere Hudson notice with the ability to opt-out of the assessment is insufficient to protect objecting employees First Amendment rights.  Thus, instead of a public sector union simply issuing a notice of an additional assessment and hoping no one objects, the union must directly ask employees to “opt-in” and affirmatively agree to pay the additional costs.           

The Court’s ruling proves a striking blow to public sector unions’ ability to extract immense funds from a captive audience in order to fuel their political machines.  

Should you have any questions concerning the applicability of the Court’s decision, please do not hesitate to contact Masud Labor Law Group.    

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