McKenna calls decision 'important victory' for workers

Friday, June 15, 2007
BY KATHIE DURBIN, Columbian staff writer

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna hailed Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring public employee unions to get permission from nonunion members before spending their union fees for political purposes.

"This is an important victory for the First Amendment rights of workers," McKenna said in a statement. "Thanks to the great team of attorneys on this case, we were able to present a persuasive argument in favor of protecting workers' political freedoms."

The unanimous ruling represented a win for McKenna, a Republican, in the first case he has argued before the Supreme Court.

"The court ruling confirms what the voters have always understood: it is wrong to coerce employees to support causes or candidates against their will," said Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, in a statement released after the ruling. "Being a public employee does not mean surrendering your freedom to decide for yourself who you will support or oppose."

But Chandler and other Republican legislators chastised Democratic leaders, including Gov. Chris Gregoire, for pushing a bill through this year's legislative session that critics say was designed to circumvent the court's decision.

"By hastily passing the 'agency shop fee' bill, the Legislature and the governor betrayed state government's most basic responsibility as an employer, which is to treat all employees fairly," Chandler said.

House Bill 2079 allows public employee unions to undertake political activities without consent of nonunion employees if they can show they have enough money in their treasuries to pay for those activities without tapping dues paid by nonunion workers.

Until last month, state law prohibited unions from using fees deducted from the paychecks of nonunion employees to contribute to election campaigns or operate political action committees without their permission. The law, called the Fair Campaign Practices Act, was enacted in 1992 as a result of a citizen initiative.

In 2006, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the 1992 law was an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment rights of unions. McKenna appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

House Bill 2079, backed by public employee unions, passed the House on a 55-42 vote and the Senate 29-20, largely along party lines. Among Clark County legislators, Rep. Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver, crossed party lines to oppose the bill.

Gregoire signed the bill May 11. Because it was passed with an emergency clause, it took effect immediately.

It was Gregoire, as attorney general, who originally argued the constitutionality of the Fair Campaign Practices Act in 2004.

Lars Ericksen, a spokesman for the governor, said she would have no comment on the Supreme Court ruling.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based think tank that joined in a related class-action suit on behalf of nonunion workers, said the ruling could potentially affect millions of union-represented workers nationwide. The Supreme Court combined the two cases in its review.

Attorney Mike Reitz, director of labor policy for the foundation, predicted that the 2007 rewrite by the Washington Legislature will be challenged in court.

"The state attorney general strongly opposed the passage of the bill and warned it was unconstitutional," Reitz said. "The Legislature chose to pass it and the governor chose to sign it anyway."



Justices reject WEA

Published: June 15th, 2007 01:00 AM

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Washington’s voter-approved campaign finance law in a long-running case involving the state teachers union’s political use of fees paid by nonmembers.

The ruling, handed down Thursday, reverses a finding by the state Supreme Court that had struck down provisions of Initiative 134 on grounds that the law interfered with the free-speech rights of a union.

“Now the case goes back to the state Supreme Court. So it’s not as if it’s over,” said Charles Hasse, president of the 80,000-member Washington Education Association.

Still to be addressed in the state courts is whether to set aside or reinstate a Thurston County judge’s finding six years ago that the WEA must pay roughly $590,000 in fines and legal fees.

”They definitely are going to be held accountable for past violations of the law,” said Mike Reitz of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a conservative Olympia think tank that initiated the complaints and lawsuits against the WEA over its spending of dues.

“It’s a victory for the state, the (nonmember) teachers and for EFF,” Reitz said.

The high court overturned the state court’s ruling, and said the laws requiring unions to get permission first before spending union dues on politics are constitutional.

The WEA all along insisted it never spent nonmember shop fees on political campaigns – in this case the class size and teacher pay initiatives of 2000.

A key issue in the case has been whether the WEA could spend money from its general treasury, which co-mingles payments of dues and shop fees – even if the amounts spent on campaigns were small enough that no shop fees would have been touched.

The Thurston County judge found that once funds were co-mingled, no distinction could be drawn. That meant the WEA violated the law.



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