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Education Reporter

NEA Takes Heat as Feds Audit  
Spending, States Adopt Reforms
The National Education Association has come under fire for practices involving the collection and use of member dues and financial reporting of expenditures. Government officials at the federal and state levels are putting pressure on the nation's largest teachers union as well as seeking reforms to ensure greater respect for the rights of individual members of a broad range of unions.

In March the NEA confirmed that both the Labor Department and the Internal Revenue Service are investigating whether the tax-exempt union properly reported millions of dollars in political spending, almost all of which goes to support Democratic causes. The IRS audit is expected to take 18 months to two years. Complaints were filed with both agencies by the Landmark Legal Foundation, which obtained extensive internal NEA documents detailing political spending. (See Education Reporter, Oct. 2003.) Some political expenditures could be considered taxable by the IRS.

Last year Labor Secretary Elaine Chao expanded general union financial reporting requirements and won a lawsuit challenging the changes. She said the vague reports made under the "virtually meaningless" previous requirements enabled some officials of the Washington Teachers Union to get away with illegal use of member dues "for designer clothes, lavish vacations and political activity to the tune of $5 million." (Washington Times, 3-5-04) (See Education Reporter, May 2004.)

'Paycheck protection' advances 
At least five states have adopted reforms designed to curtail unions' collection of dues for political action through mandatory payroll deduction. Washington state adopted a voter initiative in 1992 to end the automatic deduction of union political action committee (PAC) contributions from state employees' paychecks, resulting in a 95% drop in union PAC revenue. (Labor Watch, Mar. 2004) The NEA's Washington affiliate, however, has continued to use mandatory dues for politics, leading to two lawsuits filed by the state attorney general, one of which is on appeal to the state supreme court. (See Focus for details on Evergreen Freedom Foundation's fight in Washington state.)

Utah and Idaho passed laws in 2001 and 2003, respectively, requiring unions to establish a separate political action fund and prohibiting public agency employers from providing contributions to the fund. Transfers from general union coffers to the fund are also barred. The NEA's Idaho affiliate has joined other unions in filing suit for an injunction against the Idaho law.
Gov. Bill Owens
Gov. Bill Owens

Colorado Governor Bill Owens, by executive order in 2001, ended state processing of state employee union dues payments along with a variety of other payroll deductions. As a result, 70% of the members left the Colorado Association of Public Employees. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney used his line-item veto in 2003 to eliminate a state subsidy of the cost of processing union PAC payroll deductions from state employees' paychecks. (Labor Watch, Mar. 2004)

Religious objectors redirect dues 
Tens of thousands of NEA members have used the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act to protect against their dues' being used in a manner contrary to their religious beliefs, such as to promote abortion or homosexuality. Under rulings of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a portion of the annual NEA dues assessment may be directed to a charity of the member's choice.

However, some state NEA affiliates "run religious objectors through the gantlet," according to Bruce N. Cameron, a lawyer for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, who represents a woman whose request has been fought by the Michigan Education Association for two years. Moreover, "in non-right-to-work states, the NEA forces nonmembers to pay for collective bargaining, but refuses to allow them to have a voice or a vote on collective-bargaining decisions or any workplace conditions," Cameron told the Washington Times (4-27-04).

After an NEA affiliate in Ohio stonewalled a religious objector for eight years, the EEOC in 2003 ordered the NEA and all its state affiliates to stop using invasive bureaucratic requirements to force teachers and support personnel to justify their faith.

The NEA's co-sponsorship of the pro-abortion march in Washington, DC on April 25 offended thousands of pro-life teachers and school staff who are required to belong to the union. Abortion "is a political issue and not an educational issue," complained NEA member Connie Bancroft, executive director of Teachers Saving Children, a national group of pro-life educators. (Washington Times, 4-19-04) Members also object that the NEA's chief lobbyist, Randall J. Moody, serves on the Planned Parenthood Action Fund Federal Political Action Committee.

Frustration with the NEA is widespread among reform-minded public officials. U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige famously lashed out at the NEA as a "terrorist organization" on February 23, referring to its vituperative attacks on the No Child Left Behind Act. He later apologized but blasted the union's lobbyists for "obstructionist scare tactics."

California controversies 
Days after the IRS announced its audit of the NEA last November, the NEA's California affiliate filed an initiative to raise property taxes to pay for higher teacher salaries. The measure, which collected enough signatures to appear on the November 2004 ballot, would have mandated spending $3 billion more per year on K-12 education, of which 88% would go to teacher salaries — an $8,800 yearly increase for every teacher in the state. It would also have forced teachers at charter schools and publicly funded preschools to join the California Teachers Association.

Following strong opposition by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and commercial property interests, the union decided in early April to withdraw the initiative.

The initiative "would pit the CTA against every other stakeholder in California public education," commented Dr. Alan Bonsteel, president of California Parents for Educational Choice, last December. "Equally important is what this initiative says about an organization that claims to be nonpolitical and therefore deserving of tax-exempt status." (Los Angeles Daily News, 12-8-03)

Gov. Schwarzenegger also acted decisively to stop taxpayer funding of a particular form of union advocacy. He cut $2 million from an allocation for the University of California's Institute for Labor and Employment, and in April he proposed to eliminate it entirely next year. The institute is a bête noire of industry groups, who call it "Union U" because of its aggressive advocacy of organized labor. (Los Angeles Times, 4-8-04)

A new book, Battling Corruption in America's Public Schools by Lydia G. Segal, exposes the "legal graft" endemic to the nation's three largest urban school districts (New York, Chicago and Los Angeles). The book makes it clear that unions are part of the problem. In New York, for instance, school custodians for many years put their wives on the payroll as no-show secretaries and used Jeeps purchased for "snow removal" as their personal property year-round. Union leaders confronted about such venality would respond: "It's in the contract."

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