Small Unions Must Disclose Political Spending

Published June 1, 1999

A federal judge in California has ruled that eight local affiliates of the California Teachers Association (CTA) and six Bay Area school districts violated teachers’ constitutional rights. The union, which had illegally deducted union dues from the paychecks of nonunion members, had not first conducted an audited disclosure of its books. Nor had it provided evidence that expenditures made from forced union dues were used solely for collective bargaining purposes.

In his April 26 ruling from the bench, Judge Charles Legge barred the school districts and CTA union affiliates from collecting any further compulsory union dues until they provide financial justification for the deductions with a proper audit of their books, as required by the U.S. Supreme Court in Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson.

When the union affiliates refused to provide this information in late 1997, eight teachers, led by Diane Foster, a middle-school math teacher in Livermore, filed the lawsuit on constitutional grounds in the U.S. District Court for Northern California. The other plaintiffs teach in Fremont, Orinda, Pleasant Hill, San Jose, and Ukiah.

“These teachers are entitled to an accounting of the union’s books before their paychecks are raided by the political operatives of the CTA and its affiliates,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is providing free legal aid to the eight teachers who filed the suit.

According to constitutional protections outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court in two Foundation-won decisions, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education and Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, a union may only collect compulsory dues that are proven to be spent on collective bargaining activity. Politics, lobbying, organizing, social events, and other nonbargaining activities are explicitly not chargeable to employees who have exercised their right to refrain from union membership.

Because of these requirements, the Hudson decision imposes upon union officials the responsibility to prove, through audited financial disclosure, how teachers’ forced_dues funds are being spent. However, CTA_affiliated local unions circumvented the constitutional requirements for audited disclosure by arguing that smaller unions were exempt from the audit requirement and that unaudited financial disclosure was sufficient. They further claimed that the percentage of local union activities chargeable to nonunion employees could be presumed to be equivalent to the amount reported on the CTA’s financial disclosure.

In his ruling, Legge rejected the “small_union exception” argument and ruled that the eight local CTA affiliates could not use the “local presumption” to escape their legal obligation to provide audits to teachers. He further ruled that the six school districts were also liable for the illegal activity because, as the teachers’ employer, they were obligated to ensure that the teachers’ Constitutional rights are observed before withholding the dues.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News.