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Posts published in “Day: May 12, 2007”

The last pieces

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Evergreen Foundation on HB 2079

Winning is one thing, and often that means taking most but not all. Sometimes going after that last bit of extra advantage, the last two percent, is what can cause you some heartburn.

We wonder if that might be the case with House Bill 2079, which was signed Friday by Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, which smooths the bookkeeping involved with payments to unions by non-members and union political contributions. The end result will have the effect of allowing somewhat more money to flow, somewhat faster and with less recordkeeping, from the non-members to political recipients - mainly, in Washington, Democrats.

This is a sensitive area. In 1992, Washington voters passed Initiative 134, which said that non-members of a union who work in union shops and therefore have to pay agency fees (instead of dues) for representation services, must be allowed to decide for themselves whether any of that money should go to political uses (such as campaigns). A dispute over this soon arose, however. Did the initiative mean that those agency funds could not be used for political action unless the non-member specifically approved that? Or is it enough, for purposes of compliance, to allow non-members to opt out of political activities, and get a partial refund of their fees? Unions, notably the Washington Education Association, saw the opt-out as sufficient. Their critics, prominently including the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, argued for the opt-in.

The resulting lawsuit went to the Washington Supreme Court, where the WEA, and is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. The new bill "Provides that when labor organizations are making political campaign contributions, the contribution is not considered to be use of agency shop fees
when the organization's general treasury has sufficient funds to cover the contributions from other revenue sources." As its critics suggest, it sounds (in our reading) like a redefinition of terminology with the aim of saying the 1992 initiative is being complied with as long as a union allows for an opt-out. (We have a hard time following the argument by sponsor Representative Joe McDermott, D-Seattle, that the bill doesn't concern the lawsuit before the Supreme Court.)

The rhetoric, quite heated (Evergreen makes a reference to a "slap at the constitutional rights of Washington citizens", for example), would suggest that the money involved is a critical strategic matter.

But one news story from a couple of months back included a factoid that suggests otherwise: "Of the WEA's 80,000 members statewide, more than 3,000 teachers are not members of the union." In other words, the refund/opt-in/out issue affects about 3.7% of the people financially tied to the union - at most. Probably, a number of those people are okay with the contributions or don't care, running the number smaller still.