Seattle, WA (December 17, 2008) — A recent decision by a Washington State Court of Appeals, Division 2, has ruled union officials can be held liable for illegally spending teachers’ forced union dues under a now-effectively defunct campaign finance regulation.
The ruling means that thousands of Washington State teachers may receive restitution for the amount Washington Education Association (WEA) union officials illegally docked their paychecks to pay for union political expenditures. The ineffective campaign finance law at issue had been adopted in 1992 and has since been voided by the Washington State Legislature.
The teachers are receiving free legal aid from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys. In 2007, Foundation attorneys successfully brought the Davenport v. WEA case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned an earlier Washington State Supreme Court decision using the campaign finance law to undermine the First Amendment. The state appeals court ruled Friday on a number of issues, including upholding the teachers’ tort claim for restitution and approving the certification of thousands of employees as a class.
Before it was gutted by amendment in 2007, the Washington law had required union officials to obtain the prior consent of nonunion public employees before spending their mandatory union dues on a small fraction of what the union actually spends on politics. According to an amicus brief filed by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, the amount of political expenditures actually covered by the law was “miniscule… less than one quarter of one percent of the WEA’s total expenditures.” However, in striking down the law, the state Supreme Court had erroneously found a constitutional “right” for union officials to spend the money of non-union employees who are compelled to pay union dues as a condition of employment.
“Ineffective ‘paycheck protection’ campaign finance laws such as this have unfortunately opened a Pandora’s Box, creating an opportunity for activist courts to award new privileges to union officials and even to jeopardize state Right to Work laws,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “While the underlying law was deeply flawed, the National Right to Work Foundation had a duty to limit the broader collateral damage done to employees’ rights by the state court’s response and to fight for the return of dues illegally seized under the now totally ineffective law.”
“Ultimately, Right to Work laws are the only way to protect workers from the misuse of their funds. By making membership and the payment of dues entirely voluntary, Right to Work laws allow employees to prevent the theft in the first place,” stated Gleason.
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 around 250 cases nationwide per year.