The flyers, tens of thousands of them, arrived during the holidays at the homes of educators in Spokane and throughout the state.
“Give yourself a raise this Christmas and every Christmas to come!” they read.
At first glance, the brightly-colored flyer looks like a last-chance sale advertisement from a retailer, including a chance to “save up to $1,200.” A website, optouttoday.com, shows you how.
Actually, it’s an invitation from an Olympia-based conservative think tank to save that money by opting out of paying membership dues to the Washington Education Association, the statewide teacher’s union.
“They’ve been doing this every year, so I wasn’t surprised,” said Jeremy Shay, who as a teacher simply tossed them in the trash.
Now, as president of the Spokane Education Association, he fields occasional questions from new teachers about the flyers.
They are part of an intensifying battle between the state’s labor unions and the Freedom Foundation, which states on its website that it’s “working to reduce the stranglehold unions have” on state and local laws and policies.
Following a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Janus vs. AFSCME case, public employees are free to opt out of paying dues to their unions.
Using information gleaned from public records requests, the group has supplemented the flyers by going door-to-door.
Jami Lund, senior policy analyst with the Foundation, told the Seattle Times last week that the flyers are intended to prevent them from “overcharging” their members.
Lund added that some public employees don’t want to fund union activities they don’t agree with and feel pressured to be “in lockstep.”
However, the WEA sees the flyers as “nothing but an attempt to harass and intimidate school employees,” said Rich Wood, a spokesman for the 100,000-member union.
In Spokane, Shay said Tuesday that “Our members know that the Freedom Foundation is anti-public education. They work against what we work for.”
“We want high-quality public education, but their mission is to undermine that,” said Shay, who noted that the Freedom Foundation is funded primarily by out-of-state corporations.
A nonprofit, the foundation is member of the State Policy Network, an alliance of conservative think tanks.
WEA members pay a combination of dues to local, state, regional and national union associations. This year, WEA dues this year are $511 for full-time certificated teachers, who also pay $196 annually to the D.C.-based National Education Association.
Local dues vary by district.
“It does make sense to have access to an advocate,” Lund said. “But do you have to send money to Washington, D.C., “when the actual work is going to be done by local folks?”
It’s unclear how effective the campaign has been in eroding financial support for unions, both sides say. However, Shay said the effect in Spokane has been minimal.