New Case from the Fairness Center: Hartnett, et al. v. Pennsylvania State Education Association, et al.

This press release from the Fairness Center was circulated Jan. 18, 2017.

Pay up, or you’re fired. That’s the ultimatum union leaders can legally level at teachers across the commonwealth—even teachers who opt out of union membership. Now, a group of four Pennsylvania public schoolteachers is standing up to this workplace bullying by filing a lawsuit designed to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.  

Represented by the Fairness Center and National Right to Work Foundation-provided staff attorneys, Greg Hartnett of Homer-Center School District, Elizabeth Galaska of Twin Valley School District, and Rob Brough and John Cress of Ellwood City Area School District are suing the Pennsylvania State Education Association to end compulsory union fees as a condition of public sector employment.

“Teaching is my calling, but I fundamentally disagree with many teachers’ union stances on personnel and political issues,” said Greg Hartnett, an art teacher and father of five. “Even though union leaders violate my beliefs, I must either give them a cut of my paycheck or lose my job. That’s coercion. That’s immoral. I hope this lawsuit helps the court recognize it’s also unconstitutional.”

Hartnett and his fellow teachers are not alone: 62 percent of teachers don’t support compulsory union fees, according to a 2015 Education Next poll.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case which also sought to end compulsory union fees for teachers. The divided court’s tie effectively allowed union policies forcing teachers in Pennsylvania and many other states to pay unions as a condition of employment.

“Teachers should not have to give up their constitutional rights to teach our kids,” commented Nathan McGrath, vice president and chief litigation counsel for the Fairness Center. “This lawsuit is designed to clearly and cleanly address the core issue that was left undecided in the Friedrichs case. We intend to provide the Supreme Court with another opportunity to end more than 40 years of union coercion.”

“My choices have been taken away by a legal system stacked in favor of unions and against individual teachers,” added Hartnett. “If I’m trusted to teach the next generation, I should be trusted to make my own decisions with my own money. That’s just common sense.”

Rebecca Friedrichs, lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v. CTA, released the following statement in support of the lawsuit:

School employees in Pennsylvania and throughout the country should be freed from forced support of government unions. Hundreds of thousands of educators are trapped in the government unions’ culture of fear, which has silenced educators and brought great harm to our noble profession and the dear children we serve. I’m so proud of these four courageous teachers for having the guts to shine the light of truth on a dark situation in our schools.

In more than 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts, public schoolteachers who opt out of union membership are still required to pay “agency fees” to the local, state, and national teachers’ unions to cover collective bargaining costs. The amount is significant: PSEA’s nonmember fees in 2016-2017 are only 26 percent less than full membership dues.

The PSEA can charge nonmember fees because of a First Amendment “compromise” struck 40 years ago by the Supreme Court in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. But Abood’s premise—that collective bargaining can be separated from politics—is fundamentally flawed. Every dollar devoted to government union collective bargaining agreements is a dollar that cannot go to infrastructure, public safety, fire protection, community maintenance, or tax relief. Therefore, public sector union collective bargaining is inherently political.

Forcing teachers against their will to fund unions and political collective bargaining violates teachers’ constitutional rights of free speech and free association. Teachers and other public employees should not have to pay for activity and representation they do not support.

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