Reading, Writing, Ripped Off: The Plight of Teachers

"Gim’me the money and shut up!" That is what teachers in Washington State have been hearing from their union for the last decade. Now, these teachers, who are refusing to simply give up and pay are taking their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

All across the country unions wield enormous political clout by raiding the paychecks of the workers they claim to represent. In the 2004 presidential election cycle, organized labor raised a reported $199.5 million for their own political organizations. The AFL-CIO said it spent $44 million on voter mobilization efforts; the Service Employees International Union spent $65 million. The National Education Association spent nearly $25 million on political activities and lobbying in 2005.

In Washington State, for example, teachers have been embroiled in a conflict with the NEA-affiliated teacher’s union over whether the union has a right to use non-member teachers’ dues however it chooses. (Non-member teachers have resigned from the union, but are still forced to pay collective bargaining fees.)

No one should be forced to pay for political causes with which they disagree and according to Washington state campaign finance laws, the union may not use a non-member teacher’s dues for political purposes without his or her permission.

In 2001, the Democratic state Attorney General sued the Washington Education Association (WEA) for its willful violations of the law and won a $590,000 judgment against the union.

In a blatant disregard for free speech, the Washington State Supreme Court ultimately declared the campaign finance law unconstitutional. As Justice Richard Sanders noted in his dissent, this horrendous decision "turns the First Amendment on its head" and endangers the rights of workers all across the country. The decision perverts the right to free speech, changing it from a shield to protect people from coercion into a sword unions can wield to their own advantage.

When given a choice, union members overwhelmingly refuse to support the union’s political activity. When Washington’s law went into effect, voluntary political contributions by teachers dropped by 85 percent. In Utah, where union membership is voluntary, a similar law resulted in a 90 percent drop-off in teacher contributions. The union knows this and therefore will fight laws that strengthen worker protections.

Giving contributions to candidates and supporting political causes would be fine if it was authorized by rank-and-file employees, but when it comes to money in politics, unions operate a vicious merry-go-round of coercion. Their forced political dues elect politicians who then implement pro-labor laws and policies, including mandatory union representation. This in turn leads to even more members for unions to exploit. Worst of all, unions then spend that money in a manner that is unaccountable to their members, voters, and taxpayers.

Because of these national implications-affecting over 17 million union-represented workers across the country-the Supreme Court must now address this issue.

If the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Washington decision, unions will be unleashed to spend their workers’ dues without accountability. It will embolden unions to challenge the will of the people of their state and to challenge the right of their legislature to establish laws.

If the Supreme Court overturns the decision, teachers and other workers will have their free speech rights restored, and unions will know, once and for all, that their ability to raise money does not trump the Constitutional rights of individual citizens.

Teachers, or any other worker represented by a union, should not have to subsidize politics and causes they do not agree with. Reform is long past due and we urge the Supreme Court to hear this case and deliver justice.