In a victory giving hope to millions of workers across the country, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to weigh the constitutionality of Washington state’s paycheck protection law.
The Court is scheduled to review Washington v. Washington Education Association and Davenport v. Washington Education Association in January 2007.
The Court’s decision will determine whether millions of workers across the country can be forced to pay for politics they may disagree with.
Washington state’s paycheck protection law was approved in 1992 by an overwhelming majority, 72 percent of voters. It requires unions to obtain “affirmative authorization” from workers who are not union members before spending their mandatory dues on politics.
Union Defied Law
Despite the clear intent of the law, the Washington Education Association (WEA) continued to spend dues on politics without asking workers’ permission.
When concerned teachers learned of the violation in 2000, they approached the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF) with evidence of the WEA’s activities. After conducting its own investigation, EFF filed a complaint against the WEA with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), Washington state’s campaign finance reporting agency.
The complaint initiated a state investigation, during which the union was forced to admit to “multiple violations” of the law.
In July 2001, a trial court concluded the WEA had intentionally ignored the law. It imposed a $590,375 penalty.
Claiming Constitutional Right
The WEA appealed, and the case worked its way up to the Washington State Supreme Court. In March 2006 the state court issued its decision, saying the law violated the union’s First Amendment rights because of the administrative burden it placed on the union.
Some of the justices concluded getting permission from 4,000 non-member teachers was too burdensome for the union … even though it had no trouble corresponding with its 72,000 members.
Justice Richard Sanders dissented from the majority decision, saying the state supreme court’s ruling “turns the First Amendment on its head” by putting the union’s free speech rights ahead of teachers’ rights.
The ruling broke new ground by saying unions have a First Amendment right to force workers to support the organizations’ political views.
Concerned teachers, represented by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation and National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna jointly appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which accepted the two cases for review.
Ryan Bedford ([email protected]) is a labor analyst with the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Washington.