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Ken Turchi
IU Maurer School of Law

Last modified: Tuesday, July 10, 2012

IU expert: Supreme Court union dues decision has wide-ranging implications

July 10, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on compulsory union dues has implications far beyond the language of the holding, according to an Indiana University Maurer School of Law expert.

Kenneth Dau-Schmidt

Kenneth G. Dau-Schmidt

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In Knox v. Service Employees International Union, a California public-sector union levied a special dues assessment to establish a fund for opposing two ballot propositions. Non-union employees were exempted from paying into the fund only if they objected as part of the union's next annual notice. In a 5-4 decision on June 21, the Supreme Court held that under the First Amendment, when a union imposes a special assessment that was not disclosed when the regular assessment was set, it may not exact the fee unless the employees have opted in, i.e., given their affirmative consent in advance.

"The Supreme Court's holding that unions must allow non-members to opt in to special fees, rather than requiring them to opt out, deals another blow against the free speech rights of public-sector unions," said Professor Kenneth G. Dau-Schmidt. "The Knox decision places burdens on unions that are not imposed on other entities. For example, corporations are not required to secure the approval of their shareholders before (or even after) spending money in support of political causes. Unions, on the other hand, cannot make similar investments without first securing the approval of the employees they represent, even those who are not members of the union."

Dau-Schmidt believes that Knox will eventually focus attention on the relatively low scrutiny of corporations' expenses compared with those of unions, especially in light of the Supreme Court's recent campaign financing cases, such as Citizens United v. FEC, which was upheld in American Tradition Partnership Inc. v. Bullock on June 25.

"As corporate earnings continue to come under pressure, shareholders will hold corporations more accountable for their political expenditures," Dau-Schmidt said. "We may eventually see the Knox rationale applied to corporate spending on political speech."

Dau-Schmidt is the Willard and Margaret Carr Professor of Labor and Employment Law at the IU Maurer School of Law. He is available to comment on Knox and other related cases, and can be reached at 812-855-0697 or at