Teachers can defy union, send dues to charity
September 12, 2008 · Updated 2:36 PM
After a three year fight with her local union, Vancouver teacher Susan Wiggs is finally free to send her union dues to a charity that fights sex-trafficking.
This is an important victory for the First Amendment rights of teachers.
State law requires most public school teachers to pay for union representation, but an exemption allows teachers to resign from their union if they hold religious objections to union membership.
Objecting teachers are still required to pay the full amount of dues (about $1,000 annually), but they can forward this payment to a charity, rather than supporting the union.
Three years ago, middle-school teacher Susan Wiggs resigned from the Vancouver Education Association, which is affiliated with the National Education Association.
The NEA’s liberal stance on several social issues convinced Susan that her money shouldn’t go to support union activities.
Susan indicated her dues would go to Shared Hope International, a charity that works internationally to rescue women and children from forced prostitution.
Susan was amazed, however, when the union’s executive director told her that Shared Hope was “not acceptable.”
For more than a year the union refused to accommodate her selection. Eventually, the union filed a petition against Susan, asking the labor agency to order Susan to pick a different charity.
Susan contacted the Evergreen Freedom Foundation and we hired an attorney to represent her.
At the hearings, Susan testified about her interest in supporting Shared Hope’s programs.
She talked about the images of women from India in cages, of destitute young girls — “and they’re getting younger all the time”— lured from their families by men who promise a better life, only to sell them into prostitution in Bombay or Calcutta.
As an educator who teaches English as a second language, Susan felt that Shared Hope represented her values and she could fully support its mission.
The union explained — for the first time — that Susan’s choice failed to meet criteria the union had never published or shared.
The union also attacked Shared Hope’s financial practices and tried to discredit the well-regarded charity.
It’s unclear why the Vancouver union had such a strong objection to an organization that works to rescue children out of sexual slavery.
Clearly the union hoped to avoid a precedent of allowing teachers to pick their charity, rather than merely consenting to a union-designated charity.
Regardless, we argued that the law is clear: teachers who object to union membership have the right to select the charity that receives their dues. As long as the charity meets certain statutory criteria, the union has no veto power.
Thankfully, Public Employment Relations Commission agreed. After Susan won an initial ruling in January — which the union appealed — the full Commission ruled on August 22 that the law does not allow the union to object to the charity Susan picked.
The union could still appeal to superior court, but is it worth spending more members’ dues on this battle?
This case illustrates the abuses unions are capable of without a check on their monopoly power over teachers.
The union is attempting to exercise God-like power over a teacher’s decisions about how she will spend her own money.
The ruling in Susan’s favor provides a state-wide precedent — a teacher has the first choice when designating where her dues go. After all, it’s not the union’s money!
Michael Reitz is general counsel of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.