Workers won important free-speech rights in a decision Thursday from the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision also has implications for the Stop Special Interest Money Now initiative that California voters will decide in the November election.
The case, Knox vs. SEIU Local 1000, involved Dianne Knox, a California government employee who did not belong to Local 1000, the Sacramento branch of the Service Employees International Union. Local 1000 members include 95,000 state employees.
In 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special election for November to pass a reform slate of initiatives, including reforms of teacher tenure and union dues strongly opposed by unions. To fight the initiatives, the SEIU imposed a special union dues addition of $6.45 a month not only on members, but on nonmembers, such as Knox, whom the union represented in collective bargaining.
The reform initiatives all lost, prompting Gov. Schwarzenegger to flip-flop from being a reformer governor to one who supported more regulations, taxes and spending.
Normally, nonmembers of unions are given an opportunity to opt out of paying dues earmarked for political causes, although they still are charged for union collective bargaining costs. In this case, the SEIU gave the nonmembers no notice about, or opportunity to opt out of, the special campaign assessment.
In the 7-2 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito and reversing the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the high court held: “Under the First Amendment, when a union imposes a special assessment or dues increase levied to meet expenses that were not disclosed when the regular assessment was set, it must provide a fresh notice and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent.”
“It’s the only fair decision for the employee,” Lew Uhler told us; he’s the president of the Roseville-based National Tax Limitation Committee.
He said it restores the First Amendment right of the employees to decide “whom they support politically for issues and individuals.”
Uhler is a major force behind an initiative on this November’s ballot: The Stop Special Interest Money Now Act. It would go further than the Supreme Court mandated in Knox and require that unions for government employees obtain explicit permission from members for withholding dues for political purposes at any time. It also would limit the ability of corporations directly to support political campaigns. Corporations still could contribute to independent campaign-related efforts, as was protected by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010.
Thursday’s Supreme Court decision “augurs well for the principle that no one should be asked to contribute to something he doesn’t support,” Uhler said.
In the case at hand, the wise words of Thomas Jefferson come to mind: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.
The Panama City News Herald