Powerful Teachers' Union Elects New President
By Liv Finne
May 17, 2013
May 17, 2013
On April 27, 1,200 delegates of the powerful state teachers union, the Washington Education Association, gathered at a Representative Assembly meeting in Bellevue to elect new top executives. The new union leaders will serve two-year terms. The union president received a compensation package worth $186,000 in pay and benefits in 2010, the latest year for which figures are available.
The delegates at the meeting comprised about 1.4% of the 82,000 current and retired public school teachers the WEA reports as members.
Union membership is mandatory for most teachers. The WEA requires public educators to join and pay dues, or pay an agency shop fee equal to the amount of dues, as a condition of employment. A narrow exception is allowed for religious objectors. A typical collective bargaining enforcement clause reads: Read More >>
“Employees may elect to become members of the Education Association or may pay an agency shop fee equivalent to the dues to the Education Association. Employees who fail to authorize payroll deductions will have the agency shop fee deducted from their salary and paid to the Education Association, pursuant to Chapter 41.59 RCW.”
Failure to pay puts a teacher at risk of losing his or her job. Teachers typically pay around $900 a year in mandatory dues. In 2010, the WEA collected about $29 million from public school teachers, according to the latest figures available from IRS filings.
At the Bellevue meeting delegates held no votes on whether to make union membership voluntary.
Much of member dues are spent on political activity and lobbying. Public Disclosure Commission filings show the WEA union is the top-spending lobbyist in Olympia, spending some $380,000 in the first three months of the legislative session, more than twice as much as the next highest lobby operation, a health care workers union.
While top leadership elections occur regularly, allowing teachers to vote on union representation at the local level is discouraged. Many teachers have never voted in a workplace certification election, or have had a chance to consider membership in another union. Requests for local elections are allowed during a single 90-day period once every three years.
WEA delegates elected Kim Mead as the new president of the WEA, choosing her over Mike Ragan, former vice president of WEA, and Peter Szalai, Oak Harbor Education Association president. Ms. Mead told The Herald her specific goal is to “make sure education remains number one in legislators’ minds.” Specifically, she warned that, if lawmakers do not fund cost of living increases for teachers this legislative session, the union may put the matter before voters through a ballot initiative. After all, she said, “If you are in public education, it is a political position. There is no choice.”