By M.D. Kittle Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Amy Anaya wanted nothing to do with her teachers union.
The former Greenwood High School Spanish teacher said Lindsay Meisener, then–president of the Greenwood Education Association, told Anaya that decision wasn’t up to her.
“She said, ‘It’s not a choice. You have to, and you have to pay dues,’” Anaya told Wisconsin Reporter.
The teacher, hired in the summer of 2011, contested the mandatory membership and dues, but was charged $31.34 per paycheck, full union dues from Sept. 9 until she resigned her teaching position at the end of the school year, according to a complaint Anaya filed with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.
Anaya also asserts the union never told her she didn’t have to join the union, that she could object to paying full dues, and that she could pay reduced fees limited to bargaining costs, under the federal Hudson Notice, a 1986 case involving the Chicago Teachers Union. The complaint alleges the union committed a “prohibited labor practice” and violated law when it “breached its duty of fair representation and coerced and/or intimidated complainant in the enjoyment of her legal rights.”
Anaya seeks $750, the full cost of the union dues, plus interest, and demands the union post signs around the school alerting employees of their rights.
Her complaint, at least in part, hangs on a question of timing.
The 20-year educator, who has since moved on to another Wisconsin school district, is being represented – gratis – by the Springfield, Va.-based National Right to Work Defense Foundation Inc., a nonprofit legal aid group that advocates for employees opposed to union representation.
Foundation spokesman Anthony Reidel, describes the complaint as kind of a “test case” in organized labor law, for an organization that has its hands on some of the more high-profile right-to-work cases in the U.S.
It would seem to test the application of Wisconsin’s Act 10, the controversial law pushed by Gov. Scott Walker that all but ended collective bargaining for most public employees in the state. Act 10, which went into effect June 29, 2011, limits bargaining to wages, up to the rate of inflation, allows employees to opt out of paying union dues and eliminated automatic payroll deductions.
A recent decision in Dane County Court overturned many key provisions in the law, related to local, not state, employees.
Jennifer Vogler, administrator of the Greenwood School District, said Anaya’s contention is not correct.
Greenwood, like several other school districts, extended its contract with their teachers union before Act 10 went into effect, allowable under law. She provided Wisconsin Reporter a copy of the contract, signed June 21, and in effect between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012.
The administrator said because the contract was extended, and because it did not include the provisions of Act 10, the district’s hands were tied. It had to, based on the labor agreement, automatically deduct dues from Anaya’s paycheck.
“We do not feel there is any merit to this complaint. We do not think anything was done unlawfully,” Vogler said. She described Anaya as an “excellent” educator.
A representative from the regional union that represents Greenwood teachers declined to comment, advising Wisconsin Reporter to contact a legal representative from the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union. That official did not return a phone call from Wisconsin Reporter.
The Right to Work Foundation’s contention is that the extended contract should fall under Act 10 because it was implemented after the law went into effect.
Reidel said the case will test which date matters: the date a contract is signed or the effective implementation of the contract.
“It’s up to the court and the commission to decide how they are going to enforce Act 10 and apply it to these contracts,” he said, noting the foundation is working on a similar case in Wisconsin. The group also is representing a Milwaukee police supervisor in a complaint involving proper disclosure of union dues.
Bill Hoolihan, supervisor at the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, said Anaya’s case and the complaint involving the law enforcement official are the only complaints involving such grievances against unions of which he is aware.
While he couldn’t speak to the cases, Hoolihan said the Constitution has upheld the right of non-union employees in union shops to know what their dues are paying for.
“They are free to object to those portions of union dues that go to impermissible expenses under Fair Share provisions,” he said. Basically, unions can’t spend dues of those who seek limitations on anything beyond collective bargaining. Areas like political activism are prohibited, and non-union members may seek reimbursement for impermissible expenditures.
In Anaya’s case, Hoolihan said the teacher was entitled to know how the organization spent her money.
“I don’t think they owe here a detailed accounting, but they do owe her a process and specific accounting so she could challenge” expenditures, the state official said.
Anaya said she doesn’t understand the mechanisms of Act 10, or the timing of the school district’s extended contract.
“All I know is that when I got hired I made it clear that I didn’t want to be in a union and pay all of that money where I don’t know where the benefits are going,” she said.