Union has a right to teacher’s money on free-speech grounds? Posted by: McQ
on Saturday, December 09, 2006
One of the supposed foundational principles of the labor union movement, back when it took off, was the protection of the interests of the laborer in all areas including financial. Unions existed to provide workers with the same protections and benefits the managers and bosses had.
That was then, this is now:
Teachers unions are supposed to promote the financial interests of, well, teachers—but not in Washington state. Here, the Washington Education Association is fighting some 4,000 nonmember teachers who don't want their paychecks raided each year and used for political activities that they don't believe in. "The right of free speech is being trampled" by the union political spending, complains Scott Carlson, a business teacher in Spokane. "And that's a right I hold very precious."
Too bad the unions don't. The WEA derisively refers to teachers like Mr. Carlson who want their money back not as free-speech advocates but "dissidents." The goal is to squash these dissidents by overturning Initiative 134, a law—approved by 72% of Washington voters in 1992—that requires unions to obtain written approval from teachers before dues are spent on campaigns or candidates. Back in March, the unions got a surprising assist from the state Supreme Court, which ruled that the paycheck protection law places "too heavy" a burden on the free-speech rights of the union.
The case has now been bumped up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments in January—in what could be the most important First Amendment decision in years.
First Amendment? What about property rights?
Most people consider their labor to be their property. It is what they exclusively own and sell or exchange for equal value in the form of wages. Obviously then, wages too are a form of property as they are the tangible result from that exchange of value given in exchange for labor. Value for value.
So far so good.
Then how does a union, or anyone (yes, government as well) morally justify taking wages without the permission of the owner of those wages?
We all know how government justifies it, at least legally, and why. That still doesn't make such taking moral, but we seem to be willing, for the most part to live with it. And we all know how government enforces its "legal mandate" - by having the monopoly on force.
But how in the world does a union justify and manage such taking? Well, in the case of the Washington Education Association, it doesn't have too justify it and it has the help of government, through the courts, to manage it.
Government has sided with it and found that the right of the union to "free-speech" has a greater priority than the property rights of the teacher who objects to the union taking his wages without his permission. In the face of an ballot initiative which passed overwhelmingly and specifically prohibits such conduct, the Washington Supreme Court found a way to interpret so that it now accomplishes precisely the opposite effect as that demanded by the majority of the voters of the state.
The Washington Supreme Court defended its ruling by arguing that the benefit to the individual teachers was trivial compared to the "heavy administrative burden" that complying with paycheck protection would impose on the union. That attitude incenses Jeff Leer, who for 10 years has been a phys ed teacher outside Seattle. In an interview, Mr. Leer fumed: "I wonder how these justices would feel if I reached into their pockets and took $200 to support causes they don't believe in." He told me that when he investigated the candidates that his union dues were going to support, "it was nearly 100% opposite of the way I voted. How is that fair?"
Well it's not fair, but that's also not the argument. The union took Mr. Leer's property without his permission. What they used it on or how 'fair' it all was is irrelevant to the simple and astounding fact that the court considered the "heavy administration burden" necessary to protect a citizen's right to his own property more compelling than actually protecting the property right in question.
Does that make sense? Since when do the rights of a non-corporeal invention of a group of people take precedence over the property rights of a flesh-and-blood individual?
How was this convoluted travesty accomplished?
The Washington law states unambiguously that a union may not use dues "for political purposes without the affirmative consent of the nonmembers from whom the excess fees were taken." The Washington Supreme Court somehow twisted these words to mean that the unions can spend as they wish unless workers object and affirmatively opt out. That's a big distinction, because the unions make it as time-consuming and cumbersome as possible to get the money back once they snatch it.
When someone does object and affirmatively opt out as Leer apparently did, the court then finds that the "heavy administration burden" placed on the union to allow the "dissident" to do so is too much and thus denies Leer a right to his own property. How "1984" is that?
We hear much about apparent collusion between government and corporations, but as is obvious, that isn't the only place where unwarranted and immoral machinations take place to deny individuals their rights to their property.
The Washington Education Association does not spend non-members' fees on political purposes, and non-members have a simple, easy way of opting out.
That's the main issue at stake in the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to hear an appeal of an earlier Washington Supreme Court ruling that upheld the free speech rights of WEA's 80,000 members.
In the State Supreme Court decision last March, justices ruled that federal law gives non-union educators a simple and easy way to opt out if they don't support the association's political advocacy. School employees represented by the association are notified twice a year that they can opt out of paying for WEA's political efforts to improve public education. WEA does not use non-members' fees on political purposes, said Charles Hasse, WEA president -– a fact supported by the State Supreme Court ruling.
"…there is no indication or argument that WEA is compelling non-members to support political activities or preventing non-members from asserting their First Amendment rights," the State Supreme Court ruled (page 10).
The State Supreme Court also ruled that imposing additional restrictions on the association would hamper the association's political advocacy and violate the First Amendment free speech rights of the WEA's 80,000 members.
Hasse said WEA has consistently sought to fully comply with all state and federal regulations, and he said the right-wing Evergreen Freedom Foundation has used an unclear, flawed state law to attack WEA through the state Public Disclosure Commission. Hasse noted that the state law in question was enacted through an initiative that was written and promoted by EFF President Bob Williams. In 2000, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision that dismissed EFF's argument that WEA was a political action committee. In 2003, the Supreme Court refused to hear EFF's appeal of a related case WEA won in Appeals Court. Since 1998, WEA has prevailed in every court challenge filed by the EFF.
The U.S. Supreme Court likely will hear the case in January.
A twice a year "opt out"? Why not "right now, right away"?
And what about members who have the same objection?
Evergreen Freedom Foundation's explanation of what is going on:
In states that have not passed right-to-work laws, employees who are not union members can be required to pay collective bargaining dues (known as “agency fees”) as a condition of employment. While past Supreme Court cases have allowed objecting workers to “opt-out” of union political spending (see box on this page), Initiative 134 created an “opt-in” procedure. Nonmembers were presumed to object to union political spending, and their agency fees were not to be used for political activity without specific authorization.
Initiative 134 gave employees—union members and non-members alike—a choice, and they overwhelmingly chose not to support their union’s political agenda. After Washington State implemented the new rule and required unions to get permission for political spending, voluntary contributions by teachers to the Washington Education Association’s political action committee dropped by 85 percent.
However, the Washington Education Association (WEA) did not accept the decisions of teachers. When it could no longer legitimately obtain funds voluntarily for its spending on political activities, it chose to violate the law and use funds from its general treasury to fund its political activism.
So what the court is saying is the "opt-in" option set by this law is too onerous a burden for the union to have to comply with and infringes on its freedom of speech. And, as you see, non-union members are required to pay "agency fees", for collective bargaining representation and the contention is that these fees (general treasury funds) are being used for the WEA PAC, which, if true, would seem to be a clear violation of the law.
I was intending to blog on this (which doesn’t mean much, I get to about 1 in 10 things I wish to blog about) but one of the things I was curious about is whether teachers in Washington have to join the Union in the first place, or if the law is set up in such a way as to make it a huge disadvantage not to? That is often the case, and if so, it is an outrage. If that is not true then opting out of the union would always be an option. How does it work in Washington?
I was intending to blog on this (which doesn’t mean much, I get to about 1 in 10 things I wish to blog about) but one of the things I was curious about is whether teachers in Washington have to join the Union in the first place, or if the law is set up in such a way as to make it a huge disadvantage not to?
Heh ... I know about those intentions Lance, trust me.
Well you’d think so, if you just read their membership page ... it webpage is all about "joining":
WEA Active Membership is available only to public school employees. If you are employed in public education in Washington state, your WEA Membership would be coordinated by one of our more than 350 Local Affiliates (based on your bargaining unit or school district). WEA’s state dues are 7/10ths of 1 percent of the state’s average teacher salary. Local dues vary from district to district, and also will differ based on whether you are full time, and your position (teacher, support professional, higher-ed faculty, etc.). We also have membership categories for student teachers and retirees.
However, when you click on to their news release page and their press release about this story (it is going to the US Supreme Court), they begin with this line:
The Washington Education Association does not spend non-members’ fees on political purposes, and non-members have a simple, easy way of opting out.
Lance: more in the update. All teachers whether members or not are apparently required to pay "agency fees" which are supposed to be used strictly for collective bargaining. The contention is they’re being used (out of the general treasury) for PAC activity since contributions to the PAC have fallen off significantly.