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The NEA: Classroom Bullies By: Michael Reitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Samuel Gompers, the founder of the American Federation of Labor, once said, “I want to urge devotion to the fundamental of human liberty—to the principles of voluntarism. No lasting gain has ever come from compulsion.”

Mr. Gompers would be saddened to see the AFL-CIO has filed an amicus brief in support of a union that forces workers to subsidize political activity against their will.

The Attorney General of Washington and a group of concerned teachers have taken the Washington Education Association, an affiliate of the NEA, to the United States Supreme Court for illegally spending dues on politics without teachers’s permission. The consolidated cases of Washington v. Washington Education Association and Davenport v. Washington Education Association will be presented to the Court on January 10.

The case will have a major impact on the free speech rights of employees nationwide. At issue is whether unions can force employees to subsidize partisan politics against their will.

Unions loom large among the nation’s political special interests, spending an unprecedented $100 million on the 2006 midterm elections. The AFL-CIO alone spent over $40 million on its efforts. The National Education Association spent a reported $26.9 million on politics and lobbying over the last year.

Unfortunately, Big Labor’s power is derived in large part through dues forcibly extracted from workers’s paychecks. Unions use mandatory collective bargaining dues to fund their political activities, often supporting causes that directly violate the employees’s own viewpoints.

“I had many objections to the National Education Association, because I didn’t feel it concentrated its efforts on workplace issues,” says Cindy Omlin, a former speech pathologist in Spokane, Washington. Instead, her union focused its efforts on a left-wing social agenda that had little to do with education. “Many times I would be working as a private citizen on political issues and find that I was paying the other side through my union dues.”

This issue is now going before the U.S. Supreme Court. According to Washington state campaign finance law, the union must obtain a teacher’s permission before using collective bargaining dues for politics. When the Washington Education Association ignored the law, the state attorney general and a group of concerned teachers brought suit. The trial court imposed a $590,375 penalty on the union for intentionally violating the law.

In a bizarre reversal, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that getting permission from teachers was “unduly burdensome” on the union, and declared the law unconstitutional. Apparently an administrative burden on the union was more offensive than the First Amendment violations on teachers.

Cindy Omlin found this ruling outrageous. “Instead of teachers having freedom of speech and individual liberty, the court is saying the union has more power and rights than teachers.”

Unfortunately, unions claim an absolutely right to spend dues as they see fit, regardless of the viewpoints of teachers. According to the National Education Association’s own internal poll, 50 percent of NEA members identify themselves as conservative. Despite this, 90 percent of the union’s contributions go to Democrat candidates. A Washington Education Association lawyer actually argued in court that the union owes no “fiduciary duty” to its teachers.

Unions also ostracize and harass teachers who exercise their First Amendment rights. After Cindy Omlin discovered she could opt out of the union’s political spending, she and a colleague began notifying other teachers of their rights. The union actually sued her in an attempt to silence her, and offered to drop the lawsuit if she promised not to criticize the union.

Omlin is not alone; other teachers share her plight. She has since left the WEA and started an alternative, nonpartisan educators association—Northwest Professional Educators—where she continues to fight for the First Amendment rights of teachers.

Sadly, for every teacher who speaks out against the union’s coercive practices, thousands suffer in silence. It is time for the Supreme Court to deliver justice for workers nationwide and end the compulsion that exists in today’s modern labor movement.




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