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Published in Print: May 29, 2002, as EEOC Directs Ohio Union To Modify 'Agency Fee' Rules

EEOC Directs Ohio Union To Modify 'Agency Fee' Rules

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A federal agency has directed a state teachers' union for the second time to drop its requirement that nonunion teachers who object to paying union fees on religious grounds reiterate their objections annually.

But the Ohio Education Association says it has already revised its practice, allowing teachers to file their objections every three years instead.

The Cleveland regional office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made a determination this month in a case originally brought by Dennis Robey, a teacher in the Huber Heights, Ohio, district near Dayton. Mr. Robey, who chooses not to be a member of the local teachers' union, elected to have his "agency fee" go to a charity rather than to the local union and the state and local unions with which it is affiliated.

Regardless of their membership status, teachers in states with collective bargaining laws must pay such a fee, which is levied in exchange for representation by the union. But payers of the fee are allowed under Ohio law to ask for redirection of the money if they object for religious reasons to a union position.

Mr. Robey complained this year and last that the OEA and its parent and local affiliate took too long to send his agency-fee rebate to Habitat for Humanity, his chosen charity.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a Springfield, Va.-based group that opposes compulsory unionism, expanded the complaint to the requirement that nonunion teachers with religious objections state them annually.

"Mr. Robey had basically to jump through hoops and prove he's religious enough to get this status," said Daniel Cronin, the director of legal information at the foundation.

But Christopher Lopez, a lawyer for the Ohio Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, said the form Mr. Robey was asked to fill out had been introduced three years ago to make it easier to register an objection. The one-page form asks several questions, such as "What specific religious belief(s) and/or doctrines support(s) your request for an accommodation?" It also directs the applicant to enclose documentation.

Seeking Conciliation

Starting this year, the Ohio union intends to require the form no more than every three years, Mr. Lopez said. Mr. Cronin of the right-to-work foundation characterized that change as "mission accomplished."

Mr. Robey could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the Cleveland office of the EEOC would not discuss any of the complaints or determinations, saying it keeps such matters confidential as long as conciliation between the parties is being attempted.

"We're anxious to conciliate this," said Mr. Lopez of the OEA. He said a conciliation agreement on filing frequency would have been signed last year had it not been for what he called incorrect terminology in the document. He added that Mr. Robey's complaint about how long it takes for the agency-fee rebate to make its way to the designated charity might be trickier to resolve.

"What he's in essence asking us to do is advance the money to the charity when we haven't even collected the money," Mr. Lopez added.

Mr. Robey filed his objection in January 2001, and the contribution was made in his behalf last September, just after all dues have been collected for the year, according to Mr. Lopez.

Vol. 21, Issue 38, Page 5

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