A new and better day for the free speech rights of teachers may be just over the horizon. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in two cases directly affecting teachers: Davenport v. Washington Education Association and Washington v. Washington Education Association.
In agreeing to hear arguments for these cases, the Supreme Court is recognizing the potential significance of state “paycheck protection” laws in upholding the individual rights of more than 17 million union members nationwide. More than two million public school teachers could be affected by the ruling, which is expected to be heard in January.
In 1992, the voters of Washington passed a referendum that required the teacher unions to get their members’ “opt-in” permission before spending money for political purposes. The law was created because teachers there must, at a minimum, pay “agency fees” to their unions for the “privilege” of representation in collective bargaining. However, those teachers had no assurance or itemization as to how their mandatory dues were spent. In fact, after the new law went into effect, the union was fined over half a million dollars for repeatedly violating the trust of both its members and non-members. At the heart of the law and this Supreme Court case is a union’s accountability in spending money seized from teachers’ paychecks.
Unfortunately, Washington courts felt that asking unions to keep track of the money coming in and going out of union coffers and into the pockets of politicians was unconstitutionally “burdensome” on unions. Apparently the free speech rights of unions superseded the individual rights of teachers who were forced to pay for the union’s activities or face losing their jobs. The dissenting opinion written by one of the justices of the