- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2002

A Washington state court fined the National Education Association more than $800,000 for intentional violation of state law, and barred it from collecting agency fees from thousands of Washington state teachers who are not NEA members.
The default judgment issued by a Thurston County Superior Court judge on Monday came after the NEA missed a deadline last week to respond to a lawsuit filed by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a conservative policy group based in Olympia, Wash.
The lawsuit, which the EFF says it filed on April 23, accuses the NEA of illegally spending money taken from teachers who are not members on politics without first getting their authorization, as required by state law. The court judgment finds the NEA guilty of this because the NEA failed to file its response to the accusation by June 23.
"We are astounded that the NEA missed or ignored this deadline," said EFF President Bob Williams. "Apparently NEA officials think complying with state laws isn't a high enough priority to merit close attention, but we expect this judgment to remind them that we value teachers' rights here in Washington."
The NEA, which represents 2.6 million educators nationwide, contests the date of the deadline. Michael Pons, an NEA policy analyst, said the NEA did not receive official notice of the EFF lawsuit until May 3, so the deadline for response should have been July 2. There is a 60-day window for response from the date a defendant is notified of a lawsuit.
"It is categorically untrue that we were served on April 23," said NEA spokeswoman Kathleen Lyons. "The judgment against us is based on a false statement that was provided to the court. We had counted on July 2 and we met that deadline legally."
The NEA mailed its official response to the court on Friday.
Mr. Pons believes the court's judgment will be overturned and, if it is not, the NEA will file the appropriate paperwork to contest it. The NEA operated on a $267 million budget for the 2001-02 year, which ends on Aug. 31.
The lawsuit centers on agency fees. Teachers who give up their union membership often for political and ideological reasons ,the EFF points out continue to pay fees to the NEA as "agency fee payers." Washington state law prohibits the use of any agency fees for political activity without first obtaining permission from each individual.
"If you're not going to prove to teachers that you're not spending their money on politics, the only fair remedy is to not take the money from them," said Marsha Richards, EFF spokeswoman.
Miss Richards said the EFF filed the lawsuit after Washington's Public Disclosure Commission found the union guilty of violating the state law, but was reluctant to prosecute and instead recommended a settlement with the state attorney general.
And she pointed out that the NEA's state affiliate, the Washington Education Association, was fined more than $770,00 last year for breaking the same state law.
Under the court's finding, in addition to the fine, the NEA will not be able to collect agency fees from roughly 4,000 teachers in Washington state who are not part of the union. Washington state teachers each pay $126 to the NEA each year.
In its ruling, the court found that the NEA, both in 1998 and 2000, had "intentionally used agency shop fees paid by individuals who are not members of the NEA" for political purposes, without their authorization. The court found that both years, the NEA collected the agency fees, commingled them with members' dues in the general treasury and then donated to political committees.
Mr. Pons and Miss Lyons would not comment on the specifics of the case, but Mr. Pons said, "we don't believe there is a basis for the allegations."
He said the NEA and its Washington state affiliate "have scrupulously tried to adhere to every requirement within the Washington state law."
He said some provisions and regulations are relatively new and complex and that at times the NEA has been given vague answers by authorities as to whether a particular action would violate the law.


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