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Supreme Court Union Ruling, Knox v. SEIU, Could Cut Back Labor's Political Speech

Publication Date: 
June 25, 2012
The Huffington Post
Cole Stangler

Professor William B. Gould is quoted by Cole Stangler of the Huffington Post in the following article on the use of labor union dues for political spending.

The ability of organized labor to spend money on political issues recently took a hit from the Supreme Court.

The case, Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000, asked whether a local union needed to send out a notice before deducting certain fees from the paychecks of non-union members covered by SEIU-negotiated contracts. The fees in question constituted a "special assessment" to help challenge two California state ballot referendums in 2005. In a 7-2 ruling, the court on June 21 concluded that the public sector union did not give proper notice to non-union members before making the deductions.


"The court's opinion makes clear its displeasure with 60 years of precedent on the dues issue, which have placed the burden on employees who object [to political spending] to opt out," said William Gould, who from 1994 to 1998 chaired the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that governs labor relations in the private sector. "This decision is an invitation to litigate this issue."

Although the Knox case involved special assessments on non-union members, Gould said, the Supreme Court’s reasoning suggests that it could be applied to all union dues that fund political spending paid by non-members. The next time that a union goes through the standard process of notifying non-members they have the ability to opt out, the union may well be met with a legal challenge, warned Gould. "[This decision] indicates that if these five [justices] are there when these cases come back to the Court, that the Court will decide these cases adversely to unions," he said.