SEATTLE, Wash. — In 1992, the people of Washington state passed a law called Initiative 134 with a 73 percent majority vote. It was intended — but failed — to prevent union bosses from spending government workers’ money for politics without prior written authorization.
Yet initial reports of the initiative’s impact triggered similar efforts in other states. Now, it is clear that since Washington passed its “paycheck protection” law, Big Labor’s political coffers in that state are fatter than ever.
Even after the implementation and enforcement of the initiative by the state attorney general, the Washington Education Association (WEA) continues to collect and spend more forced-dues money for political purposes than it did before I-134 passed.
“Thousands of freedom-loving citizens across the state thought they were voting to secure individuals’ right to prevent their money from being used for objectionable politics,” said Stefan Gleason, Director of Legal Information for the National Right to Work Foundation. “Imagine their anger when they learned union political power brokers were richer after their efforts.”
### “Life after I-134” committee easily sidesteps law
Before Initiative 134 passed, WEA bosses siphoned a total of $576,000 per year into their political committee, Political Unity of Leaders in State Education (PULSE).
But in February 1993, WEA operatives contrived the “Life After [Initiative] 134” organization, the stated purpose of which was to find a way to frustrate the will of the people and continue to divert hundreds of thousands of dollars to their pet political causes.
As long as the union bosses could keep their compulsory powers intact — which I-134 allowed them to do — they knew they could skirt around any legislative attempt to regulate the use of compulsory union dues for politics.
### Union bosses juggled the books
Accordingly, in April of 1994, WEA commissars easily sidestepped I-134 by disbanding PULSE and creating in its place two new organs: WEA-Political Action Committee (WEA-PAC) and the disingenuously named Community Outreach Program (COP). Under the new scheme, payments to WEA-PAC were subject to the law’s requirement to obtain employees’ authorization before deduction.
But because COP was not structured as a “political committee,” WEA paymasters could continue to seize COP payments from all union members’ paychecks. (Those employees who exercised their Foundation-won right to resign from union membership and pay a reduced fee were not charged any COP dues or for most other non-bargaining activities.)
After I-134 took hold, WEA-PAC was still able to collect $144,000 annually.
But because COP payments slip through one of the law’s inherent loopholes, as of April 1993, WEA kingpins began collecting $924,000 annually in political contributions — 60 percent more political booty than before I-134 passed.
“WEA bosses juggled the books and easily thwarted the will of the people,” said Gleason. “Clearly, as long as union officials have the power to seize union dues involuntarily, legislative schemes attempting to regulate the coercion will invariably fail.”
Last February, Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire announced a “settlement” of a lawsuit brought against WEA and National Education Association (NEA) teacher union bosses under the new so-called “paycheck protection” statute. While the terms of the settlement might look harsh on the surface, “doing the math” tells a different story: Teacher union officials must merely return less than $450,000 of the additional cash taken over three years. In the future, nothing prevents union officials from jacking up regular membership dues or COP dues to any level they desire.
Teacher Cindy Omlin, one of the thousands of courageous educators in Washington state who are standing up to teacher union compulsion, expressed it best herself in her recent editorial in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “It seems clear,” she said, “that no carefully crafted initiative. . . can overcome the natural evolution of a forced union law into union corruption and worker abandonment.”
As Washington public employee Jennie Stephenson wrote in her recent letter to House Majority Leader Dick Armey, “Initiative 134 has been a dismal failure in preventing unions from using members’ money for political purposes….‘Paycheck Protection’ simply… provides a false sense of security and protection.”
### Right to Work legal action marches on
Meanwhile, in federal court, [thousands of teachers statewide continue their suit](http://www.nrtw.org/b/nr_43.htm), Leer v. WEA, against the massive teacher union. This suit, unlike the failed “paycheck protection” scheme, challenges on constitutional grounds the very basis of forced-fee collections. At stake are hundreds of thousands of illegally seized forced-dues dollars used for all types of politics and other non-bargaining activities.
As [Foundation attorneys](mailto:[email protected]) are now examining all the union’s books and records, a teacher victory in this case could suddenly expose the full expanse of union political expenditures and drain union bosses’ political warchests of hundreds of thousands of forced-dues dollars. Moreover, a strong judicial decision would leave lasting legal precedent safeguarding the rights of teachers in the future.
“Right to Work Foundation litigation has a real chance of having the impact on teacher union politics that Initiative 134 could only hope to have,” said Gleason. “Dollar for dollar, Foundation attorneys are doing more every day for teacher freedom than these regulatory strategies could ever hope to do.”