Washington Union Fined $400,000 in Dues-for-Politics Case

Thurston (Wash.) County Judge Gary Tabor issued a “guilty” verdict July 31 against the Wash. Edu. Ass’n for what he characterized as intentional violations in WEA’s use of mandatory teacher dues and fees for politics. The penalties, sanctions, and reimbursements make this the largest fine ever levied against WEA: some $500,000. He assessed a $200,000 civil penalty then doubled it to $400,000 as a punitive sanction saying that WEA “‘intentionally’ chose not to comply with the clear language of the statute.” Tabor also ordered WEA to pay for the costs of the probe, trial, and attorneys’ fees.

“WEA officials are used to breaking the law and having their way with teachers’ paychecks because they think no one is big enough to stop them,” said Evergreen Freedom Found.’s Lynn Harsh. “Tabor just sent those union officials an expensive reminder that they are not above the law.” EFF initiated this action. In June 2000, EFF filed a complaint with the Wash. Atty. Gen. on behalf of affected teachers alleging that WEA had used agency fee payers’ money for politics: a clear violation of state law. Since Wash. is not a Right-To-Work State, teachers must pay agency fees even though they opt out of WEA. The fees are 100% of regular member dues less portions spent on politics  and other non-traditional union functions.

Following a investigation by Wash.’s Public Disclosure Comm’n, who referred the matter back to the Atty. Gen. for a thorough probe, the trial was held in May 2001. WEA argued that it didn’t use the fees for politics because WEA’s reserve funds exceeded the $800,000 alleged to have been illegally spent. Tabor said, “Any distinction between ‘collecting’ an agency fee and ‘expending’ monies for a particular purpose are forever obscured when the funds are ‘commingled’ into the general fund.” He gave WEA 90 days to present him with a procedure assuring that WEA will comply with the law in the future. The ruling doesn’t reimburse teachers whose money WEA illegally used. A separate class action suit of some 4,000 affected teachers is pending. [EFF Media Release 7/31/01]