Teachers Battle NEA over Politics; Some State Affiliates Make It Difficult for Objectors to Redirect Dues
Byline: George Archibald, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
State affiliates of the National Education Association, a sponsor of last weekend's pro-choice March for Women's Lives, are fighting members who have invoked federal antidiscrimination laws against the union's use of their dues to support abortion, contraception and homosexuality.
Shawn Austin, a part-time school-transportation secretary in Saranac Community Schools District near Lansing, Mich., was ordered to appear before a four-member local union committee yesterday to convince fellow NEA members of her "bona fide religious-objector status."
For two years, the union has fought the request of Mrs. Austin that most of her dues go to charity instead of supporting the NEA's political and social causes. This latest hearing was scheduled despite earlier objections from her local school board and superintendent.
If local union officers and the Michigan Education Association (MEA) agree, Mrs. Austin can join tens of thousands of NEA members who have used the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act, which prohibit employers and labor unions from discriminating against workers based on religion, including "all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief."
Under rulings of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the MEA would be required to apply about 80 percent of her $93 yearly NEA dues assessment - the amount used for political and other activities not related to collective bargaining - to a charity of her choice.
But the MEA, along with the Ohio Education Association (OEA), Washington Education Association and California Teachers Association, are "the hardheads" among state NEA union affiliates who "run religious objectors through the gantlet," said Bruce N. Cameron, a lawyer for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Springfield.
Mr. Cameron, who has represented dozens of NEA members whose requests for religious accommodations were denied or stonewalled, is advising Mrs. Austin.
"The Michigan Education Association is among the worst," the lawyer said. "They require the religious objector to go through an inquisition before they will accommodate you. They are the only [NEA affiliate] who does that."
None of the NEA affiliates in 21 states with "agency shop" laws let nonmembers and religious objectors vote on the contract that controls their terms and conditions of employment or sit on the school district's grievance or teacher certification and tenure committees, he said. …