Seattle, WA (March 16, 2006) — Responding to today’s 6-3 Washington State Supreme Court ruling striking down a state law requirement that union officials obtain the prior consent of nonunion public employees before spending mandatory union dues for politics, the National Right to Work Foundation announced that its legal team is preparing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds.
Foundation attorneys – working jointly with Steven O’Ban of Ellis, Li, and McKinstry of Seattle – originally filed the suit, Davenport v. Washington Education Association (WEA), for more than 4,000 Washington teachers – who are not union members but who are forced to pay dues or fees – in Thurston County Superior Court. Judge Daniel Berschauer ruled that the teachers had an implied right of action under Initiative-134 to recover the fees the WEA had used, without their authorization, for political purposes. The trial court also certified the case as a class action for the thousands of nonmember teachers.
But the long-awaited ruling today in Davenport upheld an appellate court’s decision to overturn the trial court – thereby striking down the last remaining union dues provisions in I-134, Washington’s troubled “paycheck protection” law.
But, the State Supreme Court’s ruling directly conflicts with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, noted Justice Richard B. Sanders in his three-member dissent. “The majority turns the First Amendment on its head…The suggestion that asking people to check a box once a year unduly interferes with the speech rights of those contributors borders on the frivolous…There is no indication that any state has been held to have violated union members’ rights by foreclosing mandatory collection of fees from nonmembers.”
“While there is hope that the law can be salvaged, this situation shows how so-called paycheck protection laws are ineffective in halting the practice of forcing employees to function as ATM machines for union political operatives,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation. “The only way to ensure employees are protected is to strip Washington union officials of their legislatively granted power to seize union dues as a job condition.”
Even though the WEA admits it spends millions of dollars each year on political activities, the much-hyped paycheck protection law has ultimately offered no relief to teachers. Even if the Supreme Court had reinstated the Thurston County court’s rulings, the law would still only result in individual refunds of $10 per year, on average, under I-134. Substantially greater relief is still available to teachers under a settlement of a First Amendment lawsuit brought by Foundation attorneys in recent years. Under that settlement, nonmember teachers may annually object and reclaim more than $200 each.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in more than 250 cases nationwide per year.