That state and local unions use dues to support political campaigns is neither shocking nor illegal. But using fees collected from non-members in order to support litigation on a nationwide basis is another story. The U.S. Supreme Court thinks so as well. On February 19, the High Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari (i.e., agreed to review a lower court decision) filed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation on behalf of 20 state employees in Maine. The case, Daniel Locke et al. v. Edward Krauss et al., concerns the use of nonmember agency fees of the Maine State Employees Association (MSEA), also known as Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union.
On August 8, 2007, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the MSEA. The union, the court concluded, possessed the authority to impose a fee upon non-members of public-sector unions to cover the costs of SEIU litigation. The litigation pertained to collective-bargaining cases, but the dissenting workers don’t think that justifies the fee. The labor association calls the case a “very narrow legal issue.” That’s another way of saying that it wishes the case would go away. There’s a good reason for that. A reversal of the appeals court decision would send a clear signal that unions can’t force non-member employees to pay for services they didn’t request.
Maine, it must be mentioned, is a non-Right to Work state. That means that if a worker wants to keep his job with an employer covered by a collective-bargaining contract, he must join the union, pay the union an ‘agency fee” in lieu of joining, or lose his job. And while the litigation fee in question pertains to bargaining rather than politics or organizing, the principle remains the same, argue plaintiffs’ attorneys. “No one should be compelled to pay union dues just to get or keep a job,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “But where union officials have obtained this special privilege from the legislature, they still have no legal authority to make non-union public servants in Maine pay for union activity across America.” (National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, 2/19/08).