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How Educators Represented by Washington Education Association Can Reclaim Overcharges

Supreme Court decisions have established that unions are not allowed to charge teachers for “the support of an ideological cause [they] may oppose as a condition of holding a job as a public school teacher” (Abood v. Detroit Board of Education 431 U.S. 209 (1977)).

To accommodate this right, any teacher may resign from full union membership, and remain a nonunion member of the bargaining unit paying only the workplace representation fee, which is less than full union membership dues.

The total refund of overcharges from the union can range from $250 to $350.

If you object to the Washington Education Association overcharging you for workplace representation, you may choose to opt out of those charges by filling out the form below, printing it and mailing it to the WEA.

  • e.g. Seattle School District, Olympic College, etc.
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How do I get out and keep my money from going to WEA and NEA extraneous activities?

Inform the WEA Executive Director in writing that you wish to resign from the NEA, WEA, UniServ and local education association.

Specifically state you object to your nonmember agency fees being used for nonchargeable activities.

Send a copy of your letter to WEA and your local union.

How much is the refund?

It varies as the union’s spending on politics and extraneous activities varies. Commonly a year’s refund for a full time teacher ranges from $250 to $350, but some have received more than $400.

The Supreme Court has required unions to explain to nonunion workers the purposes for any fees it collects from them (Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson, 475 U.S. 292, (1986)).

The WEA Executive director explains in this letter the services which are provided to those paying the fee and the amount of the refund—NEA refunds $118 and WEA returns $110. A refund is also available from the UniServ and the local.

The most recent calculation of how much of the unions’ dues/fees the union claims is used for legitimate workplace representation and how much it admits is used for refundable extraneous purposes is available here.

Will I get a refund automatically every year?

No, WEA’s process requires you as a nonmember to request your refund each fall. Resigning is a one-time event; but nonmember “objecting” and getting a refund is an annual event.

Is there a deadline?

Resigning your full union membership is your legal right to do at any time. The deadline for existing nonmembers to request a refund is set by the union each year and disclosed in the fee calculation notice it sends nonmembers each school year, so it is best to register your objection to your fees being used for non-representation activities in writing in the first month of school.

Will becoming an agency fee payer affect my contract?

Becoming an agency fee payer does not affect your contract between you and your employer in any way. This includes all benefits, pension, district-provided liability protection and seniority provided in the collective bargaining agreement.

Will the union stop helping me with workplace issues if I pay only the workplace representation fee?

The union has a franchise to be the exclusive representative of the members of the bargaining unit. They can and will prevent members of the bargaining unit from securing their own assistance with workplace issues. In return for the monopoly on this particular service, unions have a corresponding duty to provide fair representation.

The state Supreme Court has interpreted the law to impose a duty of fair representation on unions because of their status as the exclusive bargaining agent for their members, and that duty includes equal treatment, enforcing the contract, assistance with the application of work rules, and earnestly helping with meritorious grievances.

All members of the bargaining unit are paying for the union to assist with district friction over placement, schedule, grievances, discipline issues, and adverse actions. The union collects its self-calculated cost of providing the workplace representation services, and it cannot legally refuse to provide these services in good faith without discrimination.

Do I have to meet with the union or sign any of their forms?

Your rights are not conditioned upon any follow up meetings or signing any disclosure documents. Such union-imposed hurdles are not required, and might even waive your rights to services from your workplace representative.

Why can't the district just let me choose?

Some districts do. School boards often agreed to union demands for a contract with an “agency fee clause” which makes payment mandatory, but they do not have to do so. They could also require you to pay a fee which is lower saving you the step of requesting a refund.

In one of the approximately 45 school districts that does not have an agency-fee clause in its contract, those who resign do not pay any dues to the association and do not need to request a refund each year.

How does the WEA and NEA use my money?

Unions are private organizations with minimal obligations to disclose financial information. Fee payers, however, must be given an annual accounting of how much the union spends on “nonchargeable” activities which are refunded. Some elements of WEA and NEA spending are also available here

How do I know that the union calculated my refund correctly?

Nonmembers are entitled to a printout of a calculation of how the refund amount is determined. It is possible to request the opportunity to review the union calculation by “challenging” the calculation of the refund amount.  WEA will schedule an “arbitration” for those challenging the calculation at which some of the evidence used to calculate the refund will be disclosed.

Does the NEA withhold liability insurance?

It is not the union’s responsibility to shield district employees from legal liability from the external claims. That is the responsibility of your employer.  Often the collective bargaining agreement specifically requires the district to provide liability protection for employees.  Check your union contract for details of any district-provided protection.

Since the first responsibility for liability for workplace issues lies with your employer, contact the district business office if you want to learn how your primary liability protection is provided.

The NEA pays roughly $5 for a liability policy for its members that supplements the protection already provided by your employer. Nonmembers are not covered by the NEA liability policy.

If you feel more protection is necessary, similar liability insurance can be obtained through other independent professional education associations like Northwest Professional Educators (NWPE), Christian Educators Association International, a homeowner’s policy, or from an insurance provider.

Will the union exclude me from workplace decisions?

Often, but not always, the union local presidents will not allow bargaining unit members who pay for workplace representation to participate in bargaining unit decisions like contract votes or strike votes. This is unfair, but since they technically have no legal obligation to allow anyone to vote in the first place, they can legally exclude fee payers. Of course, nonmembers are not allowed to vote in union elections or other union business.

Can I donate to a charity instead?

Those who have a personal religious, faith-based objection to the union or its activities are allowed under law to donate the full amount of dues to a charity. This option requires the objector to write a letter to the local union president. For more information about the accommodation for religious objections, see the information here.

Why do unions get to take money in the first place?

In RCW 41.59, the state legislature granted private organizations the ability to secure a monopoly franchise over workplace representation services for school district employees and to compel them to pay. The Washington Education Association (WEA) garnered nearly all school districts roughly fifty years ago.

The union is not governed by the usual consumer protection or anti-trust law, so abuses of the privilege of collecting money are possible. For example: They can charge whatever they wish. They can spend money on whatever they wish. They do not have to disclose how the money is spent to those who pay it. They can speak for employees without consulting or informing them. They can injure some members’ interests while advancing the interests of others. They can prevent employees from getting help in their workplace from other sources. They are not governed by any obligation to provide quality service, and they almost never have to seek reauthorization of their right to have this monopoly on workplace services.

Some states and some Washington state school districts do not allow the forced payment to unions.

Public sector union activities – including negotiating with government – potentially violate First Amendment rights of workers who are forced to fund the political voice of the union. A 2018 US Supreme Court Case, Janus v. AFSCME, has been filed by public employees who seek to strike down the forced funding of the union organization. A ruling is expected in 2018.