U.S. SC will hear case involving union fees

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jun 28, 2011

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to review an appeals court's ruling that a union is not required, in addition to an annual fee notice to members, to send a second notice when adopting a temporary, mid-term fee increase.

In its Dec. 10 decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of a district court in Knox v. California State Employees Association, Local 1000, Service Employees International Union.

The appeals court argued that the district court's direction that a union must issue a second notice when it intends "to depart drastically from its typical spending regime and to focus on activities that (are) political or ideological in nature" is "practically unworkable."

"Union spending may vary substantially from year to year -- in one year there may be a new collective bargaining agreement negotiated, resulting in a high chargeable percentage for objectors that is followed by an election year that results in a low chargeable percentage for objectors," the court wrote.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, who represented Dianne Knox and the class of plaintiffs in the case, argues that the appeals court's ruling "effectively forces nonunion California state employees to fund union political activism."

The foundation, based in Springfield, Va., is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by "compulsory unionism abuses," according to its website.

Pointing to a separate Supreme Court decision, the foundation argues that public employees forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment must be notified of how much their dues are spent on union activities unrelated to collective bargaining -- such as members-only events and political activism -- and given a chance to opt out of paying for the activities.

However, CSEA union officials issued a "special assessment" in 2005 to raise money from all state employees for a union political fund, regardless of their membership status. Nonunion employees were not given a chance to opt out, the foundation says.

In 2007, the district court ruled that the CSEA had to provide a notice to nonunion employees about the assessment, allow them to opt out of paying into the fund, provide a refund of monies spent on union boss politics and pay interest from dates of the deduction to nonmembers who chose to opt out. The Ninth Circuit reversed that ruling.

Subsequently, in March, attorneys with the legal foundation filed a petition for a writ of certiorari for the plaintiffs with the nation's high court.

On Monday, the Court included the case on its list of certiorari granted.

Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said he was happy the Court decided to review the case.

"Allowing the Ninth Circuit's ruling to stand would further undermine state employees' First Amendment rights and encourage union bosses to extract more forced dues from nonunion workers as a condition of employment," he said in a statement.

The foundation has posed two questions to the Court:

- May a State, consistent with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, condition employment on the payment of a special union assessment intended solely for political and ideological expenditures without first providing a notice that includes information about that assessment and provides an opportunity to object to its exaction?

- Also, may a State, consistent with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, condition continued public employment on the payment of union agency fees for purposes of financing political expenditures for ballot measures?

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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