Politics & Government

Political-spending billpasses both chambers

The state Legislature passed a bill Friday to allow labor unions to spend nonmembers' bargaining fees on political causes without first getting their permission, over the objections of opponents who said it was a clear attempt to circumvent a pending ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The measure, approved by the House last month, passed the Senate 29-20 and now heads to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who as attorney general in 2000 initiated the case that is now before the court. Three Democrats voted against the measure: Sens. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch.

Governor reviewing

Gregoire's spokeswoman, Holly Armstrong, said the governor still needed to review the measure before deciding whether to sign it.

Supporters said the bill simply clarifies accounting rules and has nothing to do with the case before the nation's high court concerning the Washington Education Association.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said nonunion members always have had, and would still maintain, the right to object and get a rebate.

"Those who don't object still have further protection," she said. "The bill helps them. It does not take away any nonmember, nonagency fees rights."

The law in question regulates how unions can spend fees paid by workers who don't join the bargaining group. Those workers can be charged "agency fees" by the union to help pay for labor negotiations that affect them, but can't be forced to pay for the union's political activism.

In the WEA, nonmembers who don't support union politics can ask for a partial refund of those fees. Workers who don't respond to the refund offer pay the full fee.

The bill deals with commingling of funds. It says that when labor organizations make political campaign contributions, they are not considered to be using agency shop fees when the organization's general treasury has enough money to cover the contributions from other revenue sources.