The Right To Employment Without Violating Your Conscience

Because a public sector union is a private organization not subject to consumer protection laws, its officials may charge what they please and spend money on what they please. In Washington, typical union dues are roughly $1,000 each year for the National Education Association (NEA), State Association, UniServ, Local association, AFL-CIO, and the State Labor Council. In Oregon, dues are similarly more than $900 each year for the NEA, OEA, and all other levels of the union.

In addition to extraordinary permission to overcharge and spend on items unrelated to workplace representation, union officials do not have an obligation to disclose how the money is spent.

Money is used for ideological activities unrelated to workplace representation or education services. The union's ideological activities include controversial support of abortion and contraceptives for children, family planning clinics in schools, sexual orientation/gender identity policies, and open attacks on religious organizations. These have all taken the form of resolutions, programs, or expenditures of the NEA and state affiliate executives.

Many teachers have sincere religious convictions that are violated by these causes. Fortunately, they are protected by federal law, which holds that the union cannot force any teacher to pay for activities that violate his or her sincerely-held religious beliefs. Through a simple process, teachers can become "religious objectors." This means they are no longer members of the union and 100 percent of their dues are redirected to a charity they help choose.

THE LAW PROTECTS YOUR RIGHTS

Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act says two things about your religious rights when it comes to union membership: 1) unions cannot discriminate against your sincerely-held religious beliefs, and 2) unions must provide reasonable accommodation for your religious beliefs.

Courts have ruled that "reasonable accommodation" includes your right to opt out of union membership. Depending on state law and specific union contracts, teachers can either keep a portion of their dues or have them redirected to a charity. In a right-to-work state, teachers can resign union membership and pay nothing to the union.

In forced-fee states like Washington and Oregon, teachers must pay mandatory agency fees. Teachers who have personal religious objections to union activities can redirect these fees to a charity they help choose. State law spells out the minimal accommodation for religious objections to union membership in RCW 41.59.100 (WA) and ORS 243.666 (OR).

Essentially, the steps are these:

Step 1: Determine what you believe and what elements of union activities or expenditures violate your beliefs.

Step 2: Tell the union and employer about your religious beliefs with a written letter describing your objection and requesting the accommodation of not paying, or of designating dues to a charity.

Since the union will review the letter to determine its sincerity, validity and completeness, a religious objector should give careful thought to the letter. A first impression only happens once.

Step 3: The union officials decide if they will acknowledge the request for a religious objection accommodation.

Step 4: Cooperate in working out a solution.

A publication from the nation's leading expert in workplace rights for people of faith, Bruce Cameron, is available from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, An Employee's Guide to Union Dues and Religious Do Nots.

He has been willing to provide assistance and advice, and to review drafts of letters for religious objectors in mandatory union workplaces.

A union attorney has offered advice for union presidents who are considering requests for religious accommodations, and you can review it here.

The decision about whether union activities violate a public employees' faith can be part of a formal church prohibition on union membership or may be personally held religious beliefs according to the Washington State Supreme Court (Grant v. Spellman 99 Wn.2d 815).

Because the sincerity of the beliefs is to be evaluated by the union personnel, the formulation of the letter seeking this accommodation needs to be personally generated. Topics, claims and background information which has distressed some people of faith is below, but whether they are objectionable to your conscience is a decision only you can make. The letter should reflect only those concerns which are faith-based, and should only include the truly held beliefs rather than all topics assembled and presented here.

National Education Association

NEA position on abortion (Resolution I-17)
NEA position school-based family planning (same)
NEA position abortion funding (same)
NEA position children's access to health, psychological and birth control (Resolution C-25)
NEA funding to the pro-abortion National Organization for Women (NOW)  (NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, 1998 Annual Report, Pg. 19)
NEA on the Leadership Council of the Pro-Choice Public Education Project (PEP) (Pro Choice Public Education Project, 2003.)
NEA affiliate in New Hampshire sued for abortion coverage insurance (National Education Association of Rhode Island v. Garrahy, 779 F.2d 790 (1st Cir. 1986))
Pro-life teachers have protested the NEA conventions in 2014 and 2015.
NEA role in the "Abortion Rights March" in 2004.
NEA role in the Feminist Majority Conference in 2008.
NEA and other advocates produce Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation & Youth.
NEA president regarding video for students It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School.
NEA's Strengthening the Learning Environment: A School Employees Guide to Gay and Lesbian Issues
NEA training (GroundSpark Annual Report, 2008)
NEA guide on restroom policy Schools in Transition
NEA Representative Assembly, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Caucus 2015 reports pg. 12
NEA Representative Assembly, Search for the term “Religious” to see the work to oppose free expression, search “LGBTQ” to see the work of the NEA, 2016 reports
NEA's summary of some efforts here.
2014-15 NEA resolutions include:
NEA position parent rights & home education (Resolution B-83)
NEA position sex education, gender expression & homophobia (Resolution B-52)
NEA position confidential health services and birth control for children (Resolution C-25)
NEA position earlier education (Resolution B-1)
NEA position sexual orientation counseling for students (Resolution C- 30)
NEA position school text selection (Resolution E-4).
NEA vs homeschoolers (World Net Daily report)
NEA opposing school options for parents (World Magazine)
Many faiths require that parents maintain primary responsibility for educating their children about certain issues. (Examples: Proverbs 22:6 Deuteronomy 6:5-7)
NEA union is inherently adversarial (Robert Chase NEA president)
NEA opposes some religious affiliated groups (Resolution C-20)
NEA concerns about religious groups (Education Reporter)
NEA funds People for the American Way (Grading the NEA)
NEA funded "What is Left After Right" (Susanne Clark)
NEA advises against schools referring to religious counselors (Just the Facts about Sexual Orientation)
NEA working on fighting religious freedom laws (New Business Item A)
NEA working to get educators to be social justice agents (Director Stocks speech)
NEA to promote teaching social justice (New Business Item 10)
NEA social justice in the classroom (Affecting student thinking)
NEA social justice warrior training (NEA Leadership Development)
NEA social justice curriculum (NEA EnCompass)
NEA broader social justice advocacy (Ed Justice campaign)

Washington Education Association

WEA gave $75,000 to the "Hands Off Washington" campaign.
WEA lobbyist testified on behalf of same-sex marriage in 2012 (Advance to 1:44.05)
WEA donated $5,000 to Washington United for Marriage
WEA attorney argues parents have no standing in school matters (Lynn Harsh reporting)
WEA funded American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (Report on the Religious Right in Washington State)
WEA may penalize members for refusing to break their oath to their employer (Section 4(c) of the WEA Bylaws)
WEA summary of some efforts here.

Oregon Education Association

OEA provided more than $1.8 million given to Defend Oregon, advocating for reproductive healthcare.
OEA provided more than $200,000 to the Kate Brown Committee.
OEA may penalize members for refusing to break their oath to their employer (2015-2016 Handbook, OEA Bylaws, Article XI and OEA Policies 2700)
OEA surveying members to document social justice activism (OEA Survey)

Other commentaries

"Regarding My Religious Beliefs Concerning Unions," Charles W. Baird, Professor of Economics at California State University
"Labor Union Membership in the Light of Scripture" Rev. John Heys
Christian Reformed Church of America state position on unions membership.
Roman Catholic: "Laborem Exercens"
Seventh-day Adventist: "Affidavit of the General Conference"
Dick Carpenter, Travis Pardo & Charlene Haar, Education's Iron Triangle: Uncovering the Values and Beliefs of the NEA, AFT, and PTA, 2002.
Analysis of NEA role in controversial subjects (Perry L. Glanzer & Travis R. Pardo, Grading The NEA, Focus on the Family, 2000.)
MyUnionDues.com
When Values Collide: Teachers, Unions and the Charity Option.

Organizations potentially supported by the union

EdJustice
Northwest Teaching for Social Justice
Puget Sound Rethinking Schools
Social Equality Educators of Seattle (articles found here)
WA Badass Teachers Association
OR Badass Teachers Association