(CN) – The 9th Circuit adopted Supreme Court reasoning Thursday that unions cannot force nonmember workers to fund their political activities.
The high court ruled in June that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in California had violated nonmembers’ free-speech rights in 2005 by raising its fees 25 percent to fight two propositions related to union activity. Public employees in the state do not have to join a union, but they still must pay annual fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining.
A group of nonmembers filed a class action over the issue and met with an initial success when a federal judge in Sacramento granted them summary judgment. Later, however, a divided panel of the 9th Circuit reversed and the case went to the Supreme Court.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito called the system “indefensible” and a significant expansion of union power.
“By authorizing a union to collect fees from nonmembers and permitting the use of an opt-out system for the collection of fees levied to cover nonchargeable expenses, our prior decisions approach, if they do not cross, the limit of what the First Amendment can tolerate,” Alito
wrote. “The SEIU, however, asks us to go farther. … This aggressive use of power by the SEIU to collect fees from nonmembers is indefensible”
The high court declined to find the case moot after the union had offered the plaintiffs a refund, and found that questions remained over objections that class members made to the alleged conditions that the union put on its refund offer.
In a brief order published Thursday, the federal appeals court in San Francisco vacated its initial finding and remanded the case for “further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court’s opinion.”