Supreme Court Must Protect State Employees’ Speech Rights

Supreme Court Must Protect State Employees’ Speech Rights

by William Perry Pendley

September 15, 2011 - DENVER, CO.  The Supreme Court of the United States must reverse a decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and rule in favor of the First Amendment rights of California workers, two nationally recognized legal foundations urged in an amici curiae brief filed today.  Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), Pacific Legal Foundation, Cato Institute, and the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence urged that the Court overturn a ruling that the First Amendment rights of the nonmembers of a union that is their collective bargaining agent, were not violated when they were denied an ability to object to the assessment of fees used for political purposes.  Dianne Knox and fellow employees, on behalf of themselves and others, challenged a special assessment that the Service Employees International Union used for political purposes.  The nonmembers argued the assessment was contrary to a 1986 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court and violated their constitutional rights.  On June 27, 2011, the Supreme Court agreed to hear their case. 

"Given the politicization of government unions, it is vital that nonmembers have the right to object when the union wants to use their money for political purposes," said William Perry Pendley, MSLF president.

California recognizes the Service Employees International Union as the exclusive bargaining agent for State employees, which must protect the right of nonmembers to pay only fees directly related to collective bargaining, and not those related to political activities of the union.  To protect nonmembers' First Amendment rights, the union must provide nonmembers notice of any expenditures for political activities and a 30-day opportunity to object to any fees for those political activities.  In June 2005, the union sent out its annual notice, which stated that dues were subject to change without further notice but would be capped at $45 per month.

In July 2005, the union proposed to raise $12 million for political activity through an emergency temporary assessment.  In August 2005, the union mailed a letter advising of a significant temporary increase in dues for political activities.  Notwithstanding assurances by the union, the assessment resulted in an increase in fees for nonmembers and was not "temporary."

In November 2005, nonmembers filed a class action lawsuit in the Eastern District of California, arguing that the notice was constitutionally deficient and that the assessment violated their First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  The district court ruled in favor of the nonmembers on First Amendment grounds.  The Ninth Circuit reversed.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system.  Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.

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