Thursday, June 21, 2012

SCOTUS Rules 7-2 Unions Must Allow Opt Out On Fees For Political Assessments

Public employee unions took another significant hit today as the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that unions must give workers a chance to opt out of unexpected fee increases or special assessments that all workers are required to pay in closed-shop situations.

This particular case involved the SEIU shaking down its
California public sector members for a $12 million 'special assessment' the union wanted. for political campaigning. A number of employees at SEIU Local 1000 decided to object to the fee, which was assessed without any notice. They sued, which given the SEIU's proclivities took a certain amount of courage.

California's notorious 9th Circuit sided with the union, unsurprisingly. But the Supreme Court, quite rightly, reversed the appellate court in a 7-2 decision written by Justice Alito.

"When a public-sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union must provide a fresh ... notice and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent," Alito said.

This is huge, because the decision directly impacts the right of public employee unions to collect for political activities without giving members an opt out. Alito's majority decision clearly broadens this to include not only fees levied without notice but any special assessments.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor agreed with the judgment and voted with the majority, but were careful to write an opinion of their own, disagreeing that the First Amendment requires an opt-in system for other circumstances like "the levying of a special assessment or dues increase" but were very clear that public employee unions in closed shops couldn't pick their members pockets for political campaigning:

"When a public-sector union imposes a special assessment intended to fund solely political lobbying efforts, the First Amendment requires that the union provide non-members an opportunity to opt out of the contribution of funds."

The dissenters? Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan of course. But that's to be expected. Breyer is the most far left of all the justices, with the possible exception of Kagen. And Kagen, an academic who has never worked as a judge or as a lawyer other than her brief stint as President Obama's solicitor general has no discernible qualifications for the court except her political views and her status as a Friend Of Barack. She's going to be a poison pill in the Supreme Court for quite some time, unfortunately.

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