Who would obstruct the fight against sex trafficking of children? The Vancouver Education Association (VEA) comes to mind. The teachers union, a local chapter of the National Education Association, has refused to allow a teacher to send her union dues to Shared Hope International, a charity working to prevent trafficking and sexual slavery.
Washington state teachers are required to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Federal law, however, says that employees who have religious objections to union membership can divert their dues to a “mutually agreed upon” charity in order to accommodate their religious beliefs.
A teacher in the Vancouver School District has been attempting to do just that. She found the union’s stance on various social policies to be in conflict with her personal beliefs. In August 2005, she requested permission to send her dues to Shared Hope.
The charity, founded by former Congresswoman Linda Smith, is a leader in the “worldwide effort to prevent and eradicate sex trafficking and slavery through education and public awareness.”
Amazingly, VEA executive director Roy Maier refused the teacher’s request, claiming the charity was “not acceptable.” Puzzled, the teacher provided a letter from Shared Hope documenting the organization’s non-profit status. The union still refused.
This isn’t the first time the VEA has violated a teacher’s civil rights. Several years ago another teacher seeking religious accommodation brought a case against the union in federal court. The VEA settled the case and adopted a policy for dealing with religious objectors. The policy goes beyond the typical legal requirements by stating: “the goal is to respect the objector’s choice of charities, so long as the designated recipient is lawful and charitable.”
The union recently offered to send the Vancouver teacher’s dues to a local crisis pregnancy center … but still refuses to accommodate her choice.
The mission of the Vancouver Education Association is “the attainment of a quality education of the children they serve.” Regardless of one’s political views, we can all agree that the effort to rescue vulnerable children from predators is a worthy cause.
But despite federal law, a clearly stated union policy, and a mission to help children, the teachers union continues to block a teacher’s attempt to rescue kids from sexual slavery.
That’s “not acceptable.”
Michael Reitz is legal counsel and director of labor policy for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a public policy research organization based in Olympia, Washington.