Union objection to charity over-ruled

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Dues objector prerogative defended in labor-state

The Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) has ruled that Susan Wiggs, a Vancouver middle school teacher, is free to send her union dues to a charity that fights sex-trafficking, despite the union’s objections to this charity. On August 22, 2008, PERC upheld an initial ruling that said individuals who object to union membership for religious reasons are permitted to select the charity that will receive their dues.

In August 2005, Susan Wiggs requested to resign from the Vancouver Education Association (VEA). State and federal law allow teachers and other workers to leave their union on religious grounds and send their dues to a charitable organization. Wiggs indicated her dues would go to Shared Hope International, a 501(c)3 organization that works internationally against sex trafficking and slavery.

VEA Executive Director Roy Maier refused the teacher’s charitable selection, saying the organization was “not acceptable” to the VEA. Wiggs provided the union with documentation of Shared Hope’s non-profit, non-sectarian status, but the union refused to accommodate her selection, and failed to provide a clear explanation for the denial.

On October 18, 2006, the VEA filed a petition against Wiggs with the Public Employment Relations Commission. Wiggs contacted the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF), and EFF obtained legal representation for her PERC hearings, where she was represented by attorney Thomas F. Klein. The main issue was who has the final word on the choice of charity. The union argued it had the authority to approve or disapprove any nonreligious charity Wiggs designated.

The PERC examiner issued an initial ruling agreeing with Wiggs on January 22, 2008. In his decision Examiner Joel Greene said the law “requires the union to agree to Wiggs’s designation of an organization to receive her alternative dues payments once she proves the designated organization is both nonreligious and a charity. Wiggs met her burden of proof.”

The VEA appealed this ruling to the full commission. PERC unanimously upheld the initial ruling on August 22. “We find that the Examiner’s decision accurately states the law. Where a union agrees that an employee’s closely held religious beliefs qualify that employee to assert his or her right of non-association, as long as the employee designates a qualified non-religious charity, there is no legal issue for the Commission to adjudicate. Accordingly, we affirm the Examiner’s decision.”

“This decision has state-wide impact,” said Michael Reitz, general counsel of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. “The union cannot exercise veto power over a teacher’s legitimate choice. Susan selected this charity because of her interest in rescuing children from exploitation. Unfortunately, she’s had to fight her own union for three years to send her money to this charity.”

The VEA has 30 days to appeal the ruling to superior court.


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