Pennsylvania Union Settles to Avoid Opening Books

Published January 1, 1998

Thousands of Pennsylvania teachers were immediately made eligible for a reduction of their forced union dues when officials from the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the National Education Association settled out of court a potentially costly and embarrassing federal lawsuit. The suit, filed last year in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of California, was brought by seven teachers who challenged the union’s illegal seizure of compulsory union dues spent for political and other non-bargaining activities.

The case arose when a group of teachers, who had resigned from the union and paid only agency fees, asserted that the PSEA, the NEA, and affiliate teacher unions were illegally funneling compulsory dues into political and other non-bargaining activities. Marsha Otto from the Grove City Area School District and other teachers from near Pittsburgh demanded that union officials open up their books and financial records for a full investigation into spending on politics, organizing, social events, member-only benefits, and other activities unrelated to collective bargaining.

By entering into the settlement, which was announced on November 21, union officials avoided having to open their books and justify their spending. But teachers have the benefit of reclaiming the portion of compulsory union dies that are used to promote the union’s political agenda. In this case, the seven non-union teachers received a reduction in compulsory dues averaging 75 percent over the last three school years.

“Rather than open their books and records for all to see, the teacher union hierarchy scurried to settle the case out of court,” said Stefan Gleason, director of legal information for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Union leaders “have made it a high priority to keep their political spending operation out of the sunlight,” he added.

The First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution relieve non-union members of the financial obligation to pay for union activities unrelated to collective bargaining, as articulated in the Foundation-won U.S. Supreme Court decisions Abood v. Detroit Board of Education and Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association.

Although those cases clearly prohibit unions from charging non-members for union activities such as defensive organizing, member-only benefits, and member recruitment cost, the PSEA/NEA labor union had failed to comply with the six-year-old Lehnert precedent and continued to illegally charge thousands of non-members for non-bargaining activities.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].