Washington state

Dues dispute goes to mediator

VANCOUVER, Wash. - Two summers ago, Vancouver Public Schools teacher Susan Wiggs withdrew from her union, saying she opposed what she perceived as the union's stance on same-sex marriage and abortion.

Now Wiggs is preparing to defend her decision next month in front of a Public Employment Relations Commissions board.

She's not defending her right to withdraw from the union, but rather where she's sending her dues money.

Public employees may withdraw from their union if their religion discourages union membership, but the dues of these so-called "religious objectors" must be diverted to a nonreligious charity agreed on by the union and former members.

"They were taking political stands that I cannot support, considering my faith," Wiggs, a Christian, said. "They were coming out in favor of abortion and homosexual rights. I didn't want to support them with my dues."

Wiggs' decision to withdraw was fine by the Vancouver teachers union, even though a union representative said the organization never released an official position on same-sex marriage or abortion. Where Wiggs and the union disagreed was where to put her dues.

International basis

Wiggs' chosen charity is Shared Hope International, a Vancouver-based nonprofit focused on preventing international sex-trafficking. The nonprofit, which isn't religious, was founded by former U.S. Rep. Linda Smith, a Republican from Vancouver.

That international component is the union's sticking point. Keith Drake, president of the Vancouver teachers union, said the charity Wiggs selects must benefit local youth.

"She has stuck with a charity that is world-based," Drake said. "We feel it should be local and benefit local children."

Drake said the union would prefer dues go to the women's shelter based out of the YWCA or the Vancouver District Foundation. The Vancouver district's three other religious objectors' dues go to mutually agreed-upon charities, he said.

Washington has 132 teachers who consider themselves religious objectors. Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said that Wiggs' case is the first in five years to reach a PERC hearing.

Adding up

To date, Wiggs' dues money adds up to $1,100, which is currently being held in an escrow account. The Jason Lee Middle School teacher said she wants her money to go to Shared Hope International.

"I strongly believe in the influence that they're having in raising awareness of sexual trafficking and also their work to eradicate that problem," she said.