U.S. Supreme Court Deems WA Union Fee Law Constitutional

June 19, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a Washington state law mandating that public employee unions get a non-member worker's approval before using the person's fees for political purposes is not unconstitutional.

A news report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) said the nation’s high court turned aside arguments that the Washington law violated the First Amendment of the Constitution by limiting the free speech rights of the Washington Education Association (WEA). Justices reversed a Washington Supreme Court ruling that the law was unconstitutional.

According to the news report, in the opinion Justice Antonin Scalia noted that Washington allows public-employee unions to work out “agency-shop” pacts allowing the union to impose charges on non-members who the union represents in collective bargaining. The “agency fees” are designed to force non-members to share the relevant costs if they are going to share in the benefits of the union’s collective bargaining efforts.

Scalia noted that the disputed state law, a ballot initiative approved by Washington voters in 1992 that became a part of the state’s Fair Campaign Practices Act, required that public employee unions get non-members’ consent before using their agency fees for election-related purposes.

According to the SHRM news report, the WEA, the exclusive bargaining agent for approximately 70,000 public educational employees, collected agency fees from non-members that it represented in collective bargaining. It sent a packet of material to all non-members twice a year, notifying them of their right to object to paying fees for election-related purposes and giving them the opportunity to object.

Two lawsuits were filed against the WEA in Washington state court in 2001, one by the state of Washington and the other by several non-members of the union. Both claimed that the union’s use of agency fees violated Washington state law. The cases were ultimately put together and ultimately reached the state Supreme Court, which ruled that the law violated the First Amendment.

Scalia asserted in the ruling that previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions outlined “a minimum set of procedures by which a public-sector union in an agency-shop relationship could meet its” constitutional obligations. The First Amendment, he said, does not prevent a state from going farther and requiring non-members’ consent to the political uses of the collected fees. “The constitutional floor for unions’ collection and spending of agency fees is not also a constitutional ceiling for state-imposed restrictions,” Scalia wrote.

The latest U.S. Supreme Court case in Davenport versus Washington Educational Association, is here .