Teacher Files Suit to Establish Right of Union Members to Withhold Funds Spent for Union Political Agenda
Benton, Tenn. (April 24, 2003) — In a rare challenge to the coercive power of union officials to compel teachers to support political activities as a condition of union membership, a Polk County teacher filed suit against the National Education Association (NEA) affiliates in Tennessee for expelling him from the union because he objected to supporting their political activities.
Dewey Esquinance, with the help of attorneys with the National Right to Work Foundation, filed the suit against the NEA’s affiliates, the Polk County Education Association (PCEA) and the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), in the state of Tennessee Circuit Court of Polk County.
If victorious, Esquinance’s suit will result in either 1) the right for full union members to withhold union dues spent for ideological activity without losing their right to vote on the collective bargaining agreements that bind them, or 2) a ruling striking down union monopoly bargaining power -- also known as “exclusive representation”-- as unconstitutional under the Tennessee constitution.
“This case will test whether NEA officials care more about actually representing workers, or simply shaking them down to finance their radical political agenda,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation.
In September 2002, Esquinance joined the PCEA and began paying full union dues, even though he objected to the NEA’s political agenda. When Esquinance notified union officials that he wanted to remain a full union member, but only pay for activities related to collective bargaining, union officials informed him his union membership was terminated and there was no appeal process.
Esquinance objects to the NEA and its affiliates using his dues to promote a political agenda that takes pro-abortion, pro-race preferences, and pro-homosexuality positions. The NEA is one of the most politically active unions in the country; every year it seizes millions of dollars in compulsory dues to support candidates and causes that many teachers members find objectionable.
However, as a non-member Esquinance loses several privileges that union members enjoy, including voting on the collective bargaining agreement that binds him to certain terms and conditions of employment, as well as a voice in determining the criteria for teacher evaluations, control of sick bank donations, and access to teacher training. As a non-union member, Esquinance would automatically forfeit these benefits.
Esquinance is challenging the membership dues based on the rights established by the Foundation-won U.S. Supreme Court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Under Abood and subsequent rulings, employees have a constitutional right to refuse to pay for union non-collective bargaining activities and ideological activities -- such as politics.