NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Decision Time For Union Dues Issue In Washington State

November 17, 1999

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Washington has been in a running battle with the Washington Education Association -- that state's teachers union -- over the use of union dues for political purposes. Tomorrow, the state's Supreme Court will take up the issue.

Here is a brief chronology of events up to this point:

  • The WEA charges its members dues that are supposed to be used for collective bargaining purposes -- but considerable sums have been diverted to support of union-friendly candidates and political causes.
  • In 1992, 72 percent of the state's voters passed an initiative that contained a "paycheck protection" provision that prohibits "an employer or other person or entity responsible for the disbursement of funds in payment of wages or salaries" to use those funds for political purposes without getting employees' permission.
  • When the law took effect in 1994, more than 85 percent of teachers chose not to support the WEA's political activities.
  • In 1996, the foundation received complaints from teachers that the WEA was still using dues for political purposes -- whereupon the foundation investigated, found the union in violation and asked the state attorney general to prosecute, which he did.

Although the attorney general reached a settlement with the union in 1998 -- which included fines the WEA had to pay -- he would not disclose the terms of the settlement. After Evergreen filed a successful suit to compel disclosure, the attorney general was fined $33,000.

Meanwhile the union, its political action committee and its employees have paid more than $120,000 in fines and costs for concealing contributions.

Enter a state judge who found that while the union did divert funds, it was innocent of failing to secure permission from union members because it isn't their employer -- even though the initiative was named "Limitations on employers and labor organizations."

The foundation appealed that decision -- and that is the case the state's highest court will begin hearing tomorrow.

The Washington State Labor Council, affiliated with the AFL-CIO, stated in an amicus curiae, "If this state were to issue a decision substantially adverse to (the WEA), that decision would gravely restrict the political activities of unions."

Source: Editorial, "Outlaw Union," Investor's Business Daily, November 17, 1999.


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