Canton Repository

June 21, 2002

Ohio educator protests use of union fees 

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — School psychologist Kathleen Klamut spent two years fighting for her right not to have the union fees that she pays
spent to promote abortion rights, she told a House committee Thursday.

“My faith as a Christian will not permit me to support an organization that promotes abortion,” Klamut, a Canton native, said.

The union that received her payments, the affiliate of the Ohio Education Association in Louisville, ultimately agreed to send her
money to a charity of her choice.

But then she moved to a school district in Ravenna and the fight began all over, she said.

Klamut, born in Canton and now residing in Mogadore, was among employees, union opponents and defenders who testified before
a panel of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

The panel, chaired by Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., is looking into whether unions are complying with the 1964 civil rights law. A
provision of the law permits dues or fees paid to unions to be redirected to charities when payers have religious objections to the
way the union spends the money.

Another witness with religious objections, Dayton, Ohio-area teacher Dennis Robey, complained the teachers union has consistently taken months to send his payments to the charity, and kept the interest earned from his money.

“The whole time that I have waited, the union has had the use of my money to support causes that are contrary to my religion,” he
said.

Klamut objected to the use of her fees after learning that the National Education Association, the parent union, had a resolution
supporting “reproductive freedom,” which to her is a code phrase for abortion rights.

Though not a member of the Ohio Education Association, Klamut must pay a fee to the union, in lieu of dues, in compensation for the union’s representation of employees.

Klamut began her struggle with the union in Louisville after it insisted on sending her payments to a “union-controlled charity,” she said.

Backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Klamut filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission. The agency reached an agreement with the union to send Klamut’s payments to the American Cancer Society.

When she transferred to the Ravenna school district last fall, she asked the union to honor the agreement. It refused and threatened
to take legal action against her, she said.

“I feel that the union’s plan was simply to wear me down,” she said. “The union threatens to take my job away unless I violate my
religious beliefs.”

Union officials at the hearing countered that it’s easy to get a religious accommodation.

Bob Chanin, general counsel for the National Education Association, told the committee an employee simply must “fill out a
preprinted form and mail it to the state affiliate. Accommodation will be worked out. Occasionally there may be a procedural snag,”
he added.

National Education Association spokeswoman Denise Cardinal said complaints about not getting religious exemptions are rare among
2.7 million members of National Education Association affiliates and another 53,000 nonmembers who pay fees to the union.

Reached in Ohio, Chris Lopez, general counsel for the Ohio Education Association, said the union is “always willing and able to ... talk with agency fee payers who have a religious objection and reach accommodation with them.”

In Ohio, about 100 employees a year have their union fees sent to charities, he said.

Lopez blamed miscommunication rather than malicious intent for the failure to redirect Klamut’s fees.

He said the union determined the agreement she had in Louisville could not transfer to the Ravenna school district.

Lopez added that he received a March 20 letter from Klamut complaining that the agreement was not being honored and asking for a religious accommodation. Lopez put her letter into the “system” to be considered as a religious objection but he was unable Thursday to find out what its status is, he said.

“The timing was off because all of the other religious objections by the time we got that letter — everything else had been cleared
for the year,” he said. “Ultimately, I am confident we can accommodate her. We have never not been able to accommodate
someone.”

At present, the bill lacks enough support in the Republican-controlled Education and Workforce Committee to advance to the full House, a committee spokesman said.

Rep. Major R. Owens of New York, the ranking Democrat on the panel, accused Norwood, the Republican chairman, of “attempting to embarrass the union movement.”