By Nichols, Hans S.; Berlau, John
Insight on the News , Vol. 18, No. 7
For the first time an affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest teachers union, is refunding money to teachers after having been found to have spent their fees illegally on political activity.
In the last week of January, the Washington Education Association (WEA), an NEA affiliate, began sending checks in the amount of $50 to 4,000 Washington state teachers who don't belong to the union but are required to pay "agency fees" for collective bargaining.
In August 2001, a state judge found that the WEA intentionally had violated the state's "paycheck-protection" law by spending nonmembers' fees for political purposes, such as campaigning for tax increases and against school choice, without seeking their permission. He fined the union $400,000, made it pay $100,000 for court costs and fees and ordered it to pay a total of $180,000 in partial refunds to affected teachers.
Bob Williams, president of the Ever; green Freedom Foundation (EFF), the Olympia-based free-market think tank that sparked the state's case against the WEA by filing a complaint on behalf of teachers, sees the ruling as a precedent both in Washington state and nationally. "This is a first step," Williams tells news alert!. "Hopefully, it's going to be a victory for teachers' First Amendment rights -- that teachers can't be forced to make political contributions -- and hopefully the union will become more accountable. …