Supreme Court Strikedowns

Since 2012, the SEIU has lost two crucial cases at the Supreme Court that hurt the union’s ability to collect forced dues. One protected the right of dissenting employees to refuse to fund SEIU’s highly partisan politics; the other ensured that only bona-fide employees could be forced to pay SEIU union dues.

Knox v. SEIU

In the first case, Knox v. SEIU (decided in 2012), the Supreme Court ruled that the SEIU had violated employee rights by taking money from political dissenters (who can elect to pay only representational fees in forced-unionism states like California) and using them for political purposes without asking first.

The SEIU wanted to see two of then-Gov. Schwarzenegger’s ballot initiative proposals defeated. One would have required public-sector unions to obtain employees’ consent before using dues for political activity and another would have given the governor more authority to cut state employee compensation. (Both failed.) In the process of raising money to fund its campaign, the SEIU charged all employees to fill what it called an “Emergency Temporary Assessment to Build a Political Fight-Back Fund.” The union required non-members in SEIU bargaining units to pay into the fund, despite its political purpose.

Non-members who supported the Governor’s ballot initiatives sued the union to protect their First Amendment right not to support political activity with which they disagreed. The Supreme Court found that the activity was political and therefore not mandatory under California law; thus, the SEIU was required to let non-members know their right not to pay into the union’s political fund before money was taken from them. The Court ruled, “‘Lobbying the electorate,’ which the SEIU claims is chargeable, is nothing more than another term for supporting political causes and candidates.”

Harris v. Quinn

In 2014, the Court ruled on Harris v. Quinn, the culmination of a decade-long dispute over an SEIU effort to force family caregivers subsidized by Illinois’s Medicaid program to pay dues to SEIU. Then-Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich (who would later be convicted and sent to federal prison for public corruption) had won election in 2002 backed by $821,294 in SEIU donations. In return, Blagojevich signed a law that declared caregivers “state employees” and therefore subject to “organization” by SEIU.

In 2009, Blagojevich’s successor Pat Quinn (another SEIU-backed Democrat; he received $4,336,890 for his 2010 re-election from SEIU and its locals) expanded Blagojevich’s initial order, ensnaring caregiver Pamela Harris and her mentally disabled son in the SEIU “dues skim.” Harris sued the state to get out of paying dues to SEIU, and her case went to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that Harris and others in her position were not actually state employees and therefore couldn’t be forced to pay dues under Illinois’ forced-unionism law.