Magazine article Academe

Restrictive Ruling on Agency Fees

Magazine article Academe

Restrictive Ruling on Agency Fees

Article excerpt

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case that could have implications for all unions that collect agency fees from nonmembers. In Davenport v. Washington Education Association, the Supreme Court upheld a 1992 Washington State statute prohibiting unions from using nonmembers' agency fees to "make contributions or expenditures to influence an election or to operate a political committee, unless affirmatively authorized by the individual."

In 2001, the state of Washington and several nonmembers of the Washington Education Association (WEA) had sued the WEA, an 80,000-person union with about 1,200 members in higher education and approximately 4,000 nonmembers who paid mandatory agency fees. Twice a year, the WEA sent to each nonmember materials explaining the right not to pay for political expenditures that were unrelated to the union's collective bargaining services. The fees of objecting nonmembers were set aside and not used for political purposes. The lawsuits challenged this system, claiming that the WEA's procedure failed to obtain the required "affirmative authorization" from nonmembers who did not explicitly object to the political use of their agency fees. The WEA argued in response that the statute made it difficult for the union to exercise its own rights of political expression and for that reason violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Supreme Court ruled against the WEA, describing the statute as a "modest limitation" on "the union's extraordinary state entitlement to acquire and spend other people's money. …

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