The United States Supreme Court ruled today in Knox v. SEIU that a union violates the First Amendment by imposing or increasing the dues or fees of union-represented public (meaning government-employed) employees if those increases stem from the costs of political activities by the union and the public employees are part of the unionized bargaining unit but not union members.  Instead, unions must inform their non-union members of the new or increased fees and allow them to choose whether to pay them.

Left unchanged is the Court’s longstanding precedent in Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Ed., 431 U. S. 209 (1977) that unions may require union-represented public employees who are not union members to pay fees to cover the unions’ costs associated with collective bargaining and grievance administration.  But forcing such employees to pay fees for political activities, would be a “compulsory subsidy for private speech” prohibited by the First Amendment unless there is prior notice and consent.  

This case applies to public sector employers, so there is no apparent impact on union shop provisions in private sector collective bargaining agreements that require union membership as a condition of employment.