Teacher’s Unions: Enemies Of Free Speech

Labor unions exist to protect the interests of their members. All their members. Right ? Well, not so fast. Let’s say you happen to be a member of the teacher’s union in the State of Washington who doesn’t want your union dues used to fund political activities you don’t believe in. Well, at least according to the Washington Education Association, too darn bad:

SPOKANE, Wash.–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.

That case is now before the United States Supreme Court, and, as Stephen Moore explains in the Wall Street Journal, the stakes could not be higher:

At issue is whether workers have the right to effectively declare themselves conscientious objectors to the unions’ multimillion-dollar political war games. “All we are saying is that no one has the right to take our money and spend it on causes we don’t believe in,” insists Cindy Omlin, a recently retired speech teacher in Spokane. “If you want my money, ask for it, like private charities, political candidates and businesses do.” Ms. Omlin was one of 250 teachers who successfully sued the WEA in 2002 to get half their dues refunded after a Washington superior court found the union guilty of “intentional violations” of the paycheck protection law.

The outcome of this case should be, one would think, blindingly obvious. No organization, especially not one that you are required by law to belong to in order to hold a job (which is apparently the case with the Washington Education Association), has the right to take your money and use it to fund political causes you don’t agree with. It is, after all, your money, the product of your labor. Of course, it helps that the WEA has the state, and even the State Supreme Court on it’s side:

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?”

In others, the Washington Supreme Court is saying, it’s just too darn inconvienent for us to worry about your trivial little rights. What’s appalling about that is that the State Supreme Court’s decision seems to directly contradict state law on this very issue:

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.

And, at least in the State of Washington, they’ve got the Courts on their side.

H/T: The QandO Blog

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2006/11/22/comrades-i-hereby-declare-the-revolution/ Adam Selene

    I wonder what the Court would think if it was a corporation collecting an “administrative fee” of some sort from employee paychecks and using it for political purposes?

    I’m also trying to figure out how unions (and by inference corporations) have free speech rights. Maybe the Court can explain that while they’re at it.