November 26, 2001
Judge hands down WEA dues decision
by Jeanette Knutson
Over a year ago the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a self-described free-market-based policy research organization, filed a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission, stating that the Washington Education Association (WEA) illegally spent nonmembers' dues on political campaigns.
Freedom Foundation Communications Director Marsha Richards said the commission first took up the complaint because there was a specific state statute prohibiting a union from using "agency fees," dues paid by nonmembers who receive union representation, to fund a union's political spending.
Such use of agency fees cannot be made without permission from the agency-fee payer before the money is spent for political purposes.
The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) investigated and found evidence that the 74,000-member teachers' union had broken the law.
The case was then referred to state Attorney General Christine Gregoire who took the WEA to court.
Last summer Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor ruled that the WEA had indeed intentionally violated the state law that oversees the collection and spending of nonmembers' union fees.
He ordered the union to pay a $200,000 fine, a $200,000 punitive fee, and to reimburse the state for investigative and court expenses that could run as high as $100,000.
Judge Tabor's ruling went on to say that the court did not have sufficient understanding of either of the parties' position to fashion a remedy of its own. Hence, he ordered the WEA and the PDC to develop a plan within 90 days that would clarify how nonmember fees must be collected.
Those 90 days are up and Judge Tabor has reviewed the WEA/PDC recommendations. He has decided to issue an injunction requiring the WEA to return 8 percent of WEA fees collected from each nonmember for the 2001-02 and 2002-03 school years.
"The injunction tells the WEA how to act in the future," said Jami Lund, spokesperson for the Freedom Foundation. The judge felt a permanent injunction was necessary - as opposed to the union's actions being governed by a "memorandum of understanding," as WEA attorneys had requested - said Lund. According to Lund, the judge agreed with the state that the injunction was necessary to prevent future violations.
Furthermore, the union is required to document all expenditures that influence elections.
"The judge," said WEA spokesperson Rich Wood, "did approve a plan that would ensure we are in compliance with his earlier finding. ... Though we did not spend agency fees on political campaigns, we are complying with the plan that is in place."
Wood reiterated that the WEA holds firm on its position that it has never intentionally used nonmember fees for political purposes. He said the WEA would appeal Judge Tabor's decision.