How much of proposed teacher COLA would be directed to union bank accounts?

March 7, 2014

On March 4, the House amended the Senate supplemental budget bill, SB 6002, to add a $51.2 million appropriation to be sent to school districts as a teacher Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).  The Senate-passed budget does not make this appropriation, so budget negotiators in Olympia will have to hammer out this and other differences before the session ends next week.  

If the proposed COLA becomes law, it is unclear what proportion of these funds may end up going to unions in the form of mandatory monthly dues.  This would be important for budget negotiators to know as they work to ensure that money appropriated for the education of children is spent in the public interest.

Unions face declining membership and rising costs.  Filings by the Washington Education Association (WEA) union show that recently its revenues were $33.7 million, but its expenses exceeded $37 million.  The union also faces a pension liability of $62 million. Other WEA union expenses include:

$347,685 to its Political Action Committee for political donations;

$40,000 in legal costs to help fund the McCleary lawsuit;

$150,000 in political spending in an effort to defeat the I-1240 charter school initiative;

$25,000 in political spending in an effort to defeat the I-1185 tax limitation initiative;

$17,500 to the Economic Opportunity Institute;

$25,000 to the Washington State Budget and Policy Center.

Rising executive pay and benefits also present a challenge.  WEA executives salaries range up to $296,000. 

WEA union executives rely on mandatory dues deducted from school employee paychecks and transferred to union bank accounts each month.  Rising union costs often means higher dues.  Recently union executives sought a 48% increase in dues, followed by a further 15% increase the year after, according to information released during a recent vote for union president.

The good news is that in recent years teachers have received about $9,000 in pay increases, on average, both from step increases in the state salary schedule and in funding from local levies (see our recent study on increases in teacher pay).

Good teachers deserve to be well paid, but as lawmakers debate a possible COLA, it’s important to know whether and how much of the funding may be re-directed to politically powerful unions.