Pennsylvania’s teachers do incredible work under enormous pressure. At all levels of education, teachers face issues of funding, student behavior, testing standards, and curriculum requirements. Unfortunately, for many teachers employed by the government, such as those who work in public school districts and state universities, they may also have to face the challenge of dealing with union officials.
The Fairness Center – of which I am president and general counsel – provides free legal representation to teachers and other public employees who have been hurt by public-sector union officials. The challenges these teachers face are not abstract to us. We see it all the time.
For example, some of the teachers we represent are surprised to learn their union dues fund partisan political activity. Some of them disagree with social stances taken by unions that conflict with their religious beliefs. Some happen to agree with their union’s social stances, but do not want the union using their hard-earned dues money to fund such causes. And some simply feel union officials – being distant and disconnected from local issues – provide poor representation.
Few teachers have the means to match a union like the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) – which brings in more than $100 million per year – in court. That’s why our free legal representation for teachers is so important.
Unfortunately, when teachers address these concerns with union officials, many have been ignored or rebuffed, leaving them with few options. As a result, our clients find that issues of fairness have gone unresolved for decades.
With laws and procedures sometimes stacked against them, our clients have had to seek relief in the courts. But few teachers have the means to match a union like the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) – which brings in more than $100 million per year – in court. That’s why our free legal representation for teachers is so important.
The Fairness Center has represented more than a dozen educators, including public school teachers, college professors, and a graduate assistant, and each has experienced union officials’ overreach in their workplace.
Some of these educators, particularly professors Mary Trometter and Mary Ann Dailey, pushed back against teachers’ union officials’ misuse of their power and position to advance what our clients believed was a one-sided political agenda.
Public school teachers Linda Misja, Jane Ladley, and Chris Meier sought to stop paying required union fees due to their deeply held religious beliefs. They did not want a portion of their salary going to support the non-education related causes the union was pushing.
Other Pennsylvania teachers, including librarian Elizabeth Galaska, art teacher Greg Hartnett, math teacher John Cress, and history teacher Rob Brough, were vocal advocates for ending compulsory union fees as a condition of their employment. They, like many other educators in Pennsylvania at the time, had to pay a union or lose their jobs – even though they were not union members – and filed a lawsuit with the help of the Fairness Center to regain their First Amendment rights.
Instead of respecting the Supreme Court’s decision, the PSEA continued to negotiate with school districts throughout Pennsylvania to include unconstitutional, non-member fee provisions in teachers’ contracts.
Their frustration was shared by thousands of public employees across the country, including Mark Janus, an Illinois child support worker who filed a similar lawsuit against his union. Janus’ lawsuit eventually reached the Supreme Court, and our clients submitted an Amicus brief to support his case. Hartnett, in particular, argued that union contract demands drained resources from students, resulted in the need to let teachers go, and caused tax increases in his community. Our clients fought to put students and their communities first.
When Janus won his case, known as Janus v. AFSCME, our clients had much to celebrate. But the PSEA soon demonstrated that their fight wasn’t over.
Instead of respecting the Supreme Court’s decision, the PSEA continued to negotiate with school districts throughout Pennsylvania to include unconstitutional, non-member fee provisions in teachers’ contracts. Our clients continue to their legal battle – all while continuing to teach in our public schools.
We represent our clients for free because an individual’s rights shouldn’t be ignored based on their ability to pay for legal help. Many of our clients once felt isolated and alone, but our legal representation gives them the confidence they need to stand up for their rights.
David Osborne is president and general counsel for the Fairness Center, a nonprofit, public interest law firm providing free legal help for those hurt by public-sector union officials.