The economic crisis that began in 2008 led many states and localities to look for ways to reduce labor costs, which form a substantial portion of government budgets. Some state legislatures focused on collective bargaining laws, with Wisconsin being the most high profile example. Along with the restrictions on bargaining, a number of states moved to limit the collection of union dues. The limitations were not across the board, but primarily directed at either political expenditures of unions or at particular unions, most commonly education unions. Not surprisingly, the laws enacted were immediately subjected to legal challenge sinceunions, like every other organization, depend on finances to operate. This article will review the newly enacted legislation relating to union dues, the resulting legal challenges, and the law on which they are based. It will also highlight countervailing trends in some states and discuss the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Knox v. Service Employees International Union Local 1000 which portends additional possible restrictions on unions’ ability to collect dues. The article will end with an analysis of why the legislative focus on union dues, which have virtually no direct impact on government budgets, and a discussion of the implications of these developments for the future. This is an area of law that is in flux and bears watching, as it will impact the survival of unions and stable labor relations.

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Publication Date

Spring 2013