Washington Union Must Repay $180,000 to Teachers

Thurston County (Wash.) Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor clarified a ruling Nov. 15 granting a state-sought injunction against the Wash. Educ. Ass’n to end the union’s practice of using funds from non-members for election expenditures. The injunction requires WEA officials to refund $47 by Jan. 15 to approximately 4,000 teachers who pay fees to the union. WEA is also be required to document its election-affecting contributions and expenditures from general funds and must provide an advance reduction to non-members in the future. WEA sought a “memorandum of understanding,” but the Tabor agreed with the state that a permanent injunction was necessary to assure that future violations could be addressed by contempt of court charges.

The ruling is the second part of a decision that Tabor issued in Aug. in which he fined WEA $200,000 for violating campaign finance disclosure laws, plus $200,000 in punitive damages for WEA’s intentional violation of the state law. WEA will also be required to pay legal expenses for the state, estimated to be over $100,000.

WEA’s practice of using general funds and agency fees for election-affecting activity prompted the Evergreen Freedom Fdn. to file a complaint with the Wash. Atty. Gen. in Aug. 2000. The state investigated the claim and brought charges in a trial last May.

Tabor also issued his final conclusions about the facts of the case calling the WEA’s actions “intentional violations of [state law].” He blasted WEA for its actions saying “irreparable harm will result if the WEA continues to use agency fees without…authorization.” Along with refunding teachers’ fees, WEA must track expenditures that effect elections including political advertising, contributions, in-kind contributions, independent expenditures, political communications to teachers and other expenses associated with election-affecting activities.

In reference to the union practice of using fee payer money and WEA’s general fund for election activity the ruling says, “There was a commingling of funds, the procedure to get agency fee payer permission to use funds for political purposes was not used.”

“I am pleased that WEA’s silent fleecing of 4,000 educators will no longer remain hidden and that the union will be forced to honor these educators’ rights,” said EFF’s Jami Lund.

Separately, EFF is helping teachers in a class action suit seeking to gain repayment for nonmembers whose funds were wrongfully used in the prior five years. [EFF 11/15/01]