Knox v. Service Employees Int'l Union, Local 1000

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Labor Law
  • Date Filed: January 31, 2012
  • Case #: 10-1121
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 628 F.3d 1115 (9th Cir. 2010)
  • Full Text Opinion

(1) Whether a union must provide nonunion public employees with adequate notice and an opportunity to object when the union imposes an emergency assessment intended solely for political and ideological expenditures. (2) Whether a state violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments when it conditions public employment on the payment of union fees used to fund the union’s political activities.

In California, public employees who are not members (“nonmembers”) of the union designated as their collective bargaining representative are required to pay the union a “fair share fee” as a condition of their employment. When assessing an annual fee, a union must adequately explain the basis for a proposed fee, allow nonmembers an opportunity to challenge the fee, and provide an escrow for the amount in dispute while challenges are pending. In June, 2005, Service Employees Int’l Union, Local 1000 (“SEIU”) sent its annual notice to nonmembers informing them of the proposed fees and their right to object within thirty days. After thirty days had passed, SEIU sent another notice informing nonmembers that it was assessing an additional emergency fee that would be used for political purposes. The second notice did not provide nonmembers with an opportunity to object to the additional fee. Roughly 28,000 nonmembers filed a class action suit alleging violations of their First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for petitioners, holding that SEIU complied with applicable notice requirements.

Petitioners argue that because SEIU did not provide adequate notice and an opportunity to opt-out of the emergency political assessment, it unconstitutionally compelled the nonmembers to engage in political association unrelated to collective bargaining. Petitioners contend that the Court must apply strict scrutiny when a law burdens the right to free association. The emergency assessment cannot withstand strict scrutiny because without an opportunity to opt-out, SEIU did not utilize the least restrictive means of achieving the state's compelling policy interests.

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