Wash. Union Drops Lawsuit against Non-Union Teachers

Published June 1, 1999

The Washington Education Association (WEA) has agreed to withdraw a lawsuit it filed against a group of non-union teachers, in return for the group’s promise to stop using the phrase “WEA Challengers” in its newsletter masthead. The teachers had not published the newsletter or used the masthead for more than a year.

In February, middle-school counselor Barbara Amidon of Olympia and Spokane_area speech language pathologist Cindy Omlin received a summons informing them that the WEA had filed suit against them in Thurston County Superior Court. The teacher union claimed “trademark infringement” by the non-union group, which used the labor union’s acronym in its newsletter’s masthead. The WEA also alleged “tortious interference” with “business expectancy” and “unfair competition.”

The union lawsuit was unexpected, as union officials had received copies of the newsletter for years–complete with the “WEA Challengers” masthead. Amidon and Omlin were founders of the “WEA Challengers Network,” publishing a newsletter to report on the WEA’s dues-funded political activities and to inform teachers about their constitutional rights to reclaim a portion of their compulsory dues.

The masthead became an issue only after the teachers became involved in a class-action lawsuit, Leer v. WEA. The suit, which stopped the WEA’s program of illegally using teachers’ compulsory dues for political purposes, was brought by the National Right to Work Foundation.

“These two brave educators simply informed teachers of their rights,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “It was very clear from the start that these charges were nothing more than an attempt by the union brass to silence, punish, and make examples of Cindy Omlin and Barbara Amidon.”

With the aid of the Foundation, the teachers defended themselves against the suit and also filed counterclaims because of the retaliatory and frivolous nature of the union’s suit. When the teachers sought internal union documents and testimony of high_ranking WEA officials in connection with their counterclaims, WEA officials began negotiating a settlement. On April 26, the settlement agreement was signed and the charges against Omlin and Amidon were dropped.

“What started as a vindictive strike against these two teachers began to turn against the union and quickly turned into a situation where the union had much more to lose than gain from proceeding with its case,” said Gleason.

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