Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


Urges Supreme Court to support workers’ rights

Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna makes his first appearance before the United States Supreme Court Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007, presenting the state’s argument in Washington v. Washington Education Association.

McKenna will ask the US Supreme Court to reverse a Washington State Supreme Court decision, ruling part of Washington’s voter-approved campaign finance law unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether it is unconstitutional to require unions to have teachers, who are required to pay union fees but who are not union members, to affirmatively "opt-in" to have some of those fees spent on the union’s political activities.

Initiative 134, passed by 73 percent of Washington voters in 1992, required Washington labor organizations to obtain the "affirmative authorization" (opt-in) of non-members before the organization could spend the fees for the union's political contributions and expenditures to influence an election or to operate a political committee.

The WEA contends all it is required to do is allow non-members the option to "opt out" of having their fees used for political purposes.

“This is an important decision for teacher’s rights,” McKenna said. “The WEA already goes through the administrative process of sending notice to teachers informing them of their rights to opt-out of having their non-member fees spent on political activity. The WEA could use essentially the same process to comply with our state’s voter-approved campaign finance law requiring them to ask teachers to opt in and approve the use of their fees for political purposes.

“Simply because a teacher fails to opt-out of allowing his or her non-member fees to be used for political purposes does not mean he or she supports having those fees used in that manner--any more than a person's failure to cancel an on-line subscription means they want to continue the service,” McKenna said. “The difference is some of these teachers would have never signed up in the first place. It is important to recall that nonmembers are put in the position of having to take action to protect their own money only because government has authorized the union to collect compulsory fees in the first place."

In a 6-3 decision on March 16, 2006, the State Supreme Court struck down the portion of I-134 requiring the WEA to obtain affirmative authorization. The case will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on January 10.

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Contact: Janelle Guthrie, Attorney General’s Office Communications Director, (360) 584-3046