The Supreme Court decided Knox v. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) today, delivering an important victory for the First Amendment.
The case originated in California, which is not a right-to-work state. There, public unions may collect dues from non-union workers and finance political campaigns, as long as they issue a “Hudson notice” allowing non-union members to opt out of political expenditures. This case arose out of the SEIU’s decision to campaign against two California ballot initiatives after already issuing a “Hudson notice.” To fund these additional campaign expenses, SEIU levied a temporary union fee increase without inviting non-union members to opt out. In practice, this forced the non-union members to pay for a political campaign they might oppose, at least until the next “Hudson notice.”
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.
In other words, as Justice Sotomayor’s concurring opinion argues, the Supreme Court found, “for the very first time, that the First Amendment does require an opt-in system in some circumstances: the levying of a special assessment or dues increase.”