Washington Education Association gives big to progressive causes, tax return shows

Washington Education Association gives big to progressive causes, tax return shows

Washington Education Association gives big to progressive causes, tax return shows

The largest labor union in Washington state doesn’t represent retail workers, nurses, Boeing employees, or other private-sector workers. It represents teachers.

With a purported membership of “94,000 public school educators from pre-K through higher education,” the Washington Education Association (WEA) dwarfs the state’s next largest union, UFCW Local 3000, which claims membership of around 53,000, mostly in the retail and health care sectors.

Despite its size, the infamously progressive WEA faces fewer financial transparency obligations than most labor unions by virtue of the fact that it represents only non-federal public employees, placing it outside the jurisdiction of federal accountability and transparency laws governing unions representing private-sector workers. Washington state law, which governs collective bargaining by state and local government workers, contains no comparable requirements for unions representing public servants.

The only publicly available documents providing a window into WEA’s finances are the annual Form 990 tax returns the union files with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). WEA’s most recent such return available from the IRS covers the 2021-22 academic year and confirms in no uncertain terms WEA’s loudly-proclaimed progressive politics.

Still, since knowing something to be true in the abstract isn’t as meaningful as understanding it, and in light of unions’ oft-repeated reminder that “budgets are moral documents,” the details of the WEA’s tax return are worthy of scrutiny, especially for those Washington residents concerned about the organization’s outsized influence on politics and policymaking and educators wondering whether the teachers union’s values align with their own.

How WEA spends members’ dues

Over the course of the 2021-22 academic year, the WEA collected total revenue of $50.4 million, mostly in dues paid by its Washington members, though it received notable grants from its parent affiliate, the Washington, D.C.-based National Education Association (NEA).

Despite collecting such a significant sum, the union spent even more, finishing the year $3.4 million in the red.

By far the WEA’s biggest expense was salary, benefits and other compensation and related payroll costs for its employees, which totaled $28.6 million.

While the WEA need not disclose the total number of its paid employees, the Form 990 does disclose its 15 highest-compensated officers and staff.

WEA president Larry Delaney, elected to that position by the union’s members, received total compensation from the union of $312,281 for a reported average of 37.5 hours of work per week. The union’s elected vice president, Janie White, received $257,936 in total compensation.

However, the union’s hired executive director, Aimee Iverson, far outpaced them both, receiving $415,545 in total compensation from the WEA that year.

The Form 990 also disclosed a dozen other top staff, each earning well over $200,000 per year in total compensation. The total number of such employees on the payroll is unknown.

Interestingly, unfunded pension obligations towards its current and former staff represent a significant liability for the WEA. In fact, the weight of the union’s reported $45 million in liabilities for employee retirement benefits pulled its net assets into negative territory that year by nearly $1.3 million.

The WEA’s second largest expense in 2021-22 was $13.6 million in “payments to affiliates,” most of which likely went to the NEA in the form of “per capita taxes” owed as a condition of WEA’s affiliation. How the NEA spends its share of the largesse is another story, but the union’s far-left political activism is well known, with the Wall Street Journal describing the NEA in 2021 as “the ideological and institutional vanguard of progressive politics.”

The WEA’s other major expense categories included:

  • $5.2 million for administrative, facilities, and other miscellaneous expenses.
  • $3.5 million in payments to outside vendors for various services.
  • $1.4 million for “travel” and “conferences, conventions, and meetings.”
  • $181,000 spent on “dues and fees,” though it’s not clear what this category encompasses since dues are typically collected by unions. It’s possible that the WEA accounted for certain annual contributions to various progressive organizations as “dues” paid for “membership” in these entities and, in so doing, avoided itemizing the expenditures as “grants.”

Indeed, grants are the only category of expenses the IRS requires to be itemized on Forms 990.

Dues for politics?

During the 2021-22 tax year, the WEA disclosed making nine grants totaling more than $1.4 million. 

By far the largest recipient of WEA grant funds was the WEA’s own political action committee, WEA-PAC, which received two contributions from the union of $500,000 each in the lead-up to the 2022 elections.

While many union members are under the false impression that their union dues cannot be used for political campaigning, the reality is that, “In this State general membership dues of a labor organization may be used as a source for political contributions,” as the Washington State Supreme Court explained in a 2000 opinion.

At least some of this confusion is deliberate. While some Washington unions quietly funnel dues money into political committees that are effectively invisible to members, the WEA actively encourages its members to support WEA-PAC by making monthly contributions of $2.25-$10.50 in addition to their dues.

In an egregious example of taxpayers being forced to subsidize overt union politicking, these contributions are almost always deducted from educators’ paychecks and transferred to WEA-PAC by their taxpayer-funded government employer’s staff and payroll systems. 

Given its marketing materials, teachers could be forgiven for thinking that WEA-PAC relies on voluntary contributions from members to function. In an attempt to convince its members that contributions to WEA-PAC “really make a difference,” the WEA explains:  

“A strong PAC is how we elect pro-education, pro-labor candidates… Increasing your monthly contribution gives us a greater voice in policies that affect our profession… When you join WEA-PAC your contributions are used to help support pro-education, pro-labor candidates. Once elected, these candidates become elected officials who help craft and support pro-education, pro-labor legislation — the policies and funding that affect our schools. This creates the framework for negotiations with your school board and enables your local union to effectively bargain for higher salaries, better benefits, and better working conditions. Because of this cycle, and your support of WEA-PAC, we are able to directly impact education policy in our state.”

In reality, the $1 million in member dues WEA contributed to its own PAC constituted 44 percent of the funds received by WEA-PAC in 2022. Additionally, WEA members were on the hook for $681,000 worth of in-kind contributions of time or services by WEA to its PAC—think paid time spent by WEA staff working on the political campaigns of union-backed candidates.  

And while WEA takes pains to avoid describing its political allegiances in partisan terms (“Our mission is to recommend and elect pro-public education, pro-labor candidates to office — regardless of party affiliation”) it endorsed only four Republican candidates in 2022, each of which was either running unopposed or in a solidly GOP state legislative district. The other 76 endorsements for state legislature went to Democrat candidates and one progressive independent. All four of WEA’s endorsements for statewide office went to Democrats or Democrat-aligned candidates seeking technically nonpartisan positions. And all 11 of WEA’s congressional endorsements went to Democrats.

Grants to progressive advocacy groups

The WEA’s eight other 2021-22 grants all went to equally progressive organizations and causes, including:

  • $250,000 to Invest in Washington Now, a lobbying and PR operation dedicated to advocating for new and increased state taxes, including income taxes.
  • $50,000 to No Tax Cut for the Super Rich, a political action committee formed to oppose Initiative 1929, which would have repealed the capital gains income tax adopted by the legislature in 2021.  
  • $20,000 to WinWin Action which, in its words, “provides data, strategy, training, and research to progressive causes, communities, and campaigns across Washington.”   
  • $10,000 to Balance Our Tax Code, a “coalition” dedicated to increasing state taxes.  
  • $10,000 to the Economic Opportunity Institute, a progressive nonprofit advocacy organization.
  • $10,000 to the NEA Foundation, the National Education Association’s (also super progressive) charitable arm.
  • $10,000 to Sound Alliance United, which describes itself as a progressive “alliance of faith, labor, health education and community organizations” that is affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation co-founded by arch-radical Saul Alinsky in 1940.
  • $7,500 to Seattle Out and Proud, an LGBTQIA+ advocacy organization that coordinates Seattle’s annual Pride Parade and other comparable events.


While the WEA’s political operations have repeatedly run afoul of state campaign finance laws over the years, and the union remains under investigation by the state Public Disclosure Commission for possible additional violations, there’s nothing inherently illegal or inappropriate with a private membership organization taking controversial or partisan positions on political issues or candidates.

Unfortunately, the WEA will maintain its disproportionate influence over state elections and policymaking unless state law is amended to (1) ensure public employees like teachers can’t be unduly pressured into union membership and (2) end the myriad ways in which taxpayers are forced to subsidize government unions’ operations and advocacy.

Until that happens, the most effective means by which to rein in the WEA’s excesses is for those educators whose views diverge from the union’s to live their values by cancelling their WEA membership, as thousands have already done, or forming their own independent, unaffiliated local unions to replace incumbent WEA affiliates.

Director of Research and Government Affairs
As the Freedom Foundation’s Director of Research and Government Affairs, Maxford Nelsen leads the team working to advance the Freedom Foundation’s mission through strategic research, public policy advocacy, and labor relations. Max regularly testifies on labor issues before legislative bodies and his research has formed the basis of several briefs submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court. Max’s work has been published in local newspapers around the country and in national outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, National Review, and the American Spectator. His work on labor policy issues has been featured in media outlets like the New York Times, Fox News, and PBS News Hour. He is a frequent guest on local radio stations like 770 KTTH and 570 KVI. From 2019-21, Max was a presidential appointee to the Federal Service Impasses Panel within the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which resolves contract negotiation disputes between federal agencies and labor unions. Prior to joining the Freedom Foundation in 2013, Max worked for WashingtonVotes.org and the Washington Policy Center and interned with the Heritage Foundation. Max holds a labor relations certificate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated magna cum laude from Whitworth University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. A Washington native, he lives in Olympia with his wife and sons.