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Teachers Sue PA’s Largest Teacher Union for Withholding Charitable Contributions

Jane Ladley, a retired Chester County teacher, said she believes that education is academic, not political, which is why she has attached her name, along with another teacher’s reputation, to a lawsuit filed against the Pennsylvania State Education Association. The unprecedented lawsuit was filed Sept. 18 in Lancaster County.

The PSEA began collecting union dues in Ladley’s school district during her final year, prior to her retirement. That triggered a response from Ladley, who aligns with Chris Meier, a Lancaster County teacher, in his thinking, that they should be allowed to donate their union dues to a cause they support – even if the cause is political.

“I did not become a teacher to fund political causes or organizations that go against my beliefs,” Ladley said at a media press event.

Both Ladley and Meier are religious objectors to the teachers’ union, according to the Fairness Center. The Fairness Center is a newly formed nonprofit organization that offers free legal services “to those facing unjust treatment from public employee union leaders.” In lieu of paying dues, the law allows for religious objectors to contribute to an IRS-approved charity of their choice.

In 1988, the Pennsylvania Legislature enacted “agency shop” provisions applicable to state and school employees. Act 84 allowed public sector unions to bargain for agreements that require – as a condition of employment – either union membership or payment of a nonmember “fair share” fee. Portions of the law were found unconstitutional following a class action lawsuit filed by nonmember employees.

Among the statutory protections for religious objectors, “nonmembers have the right to object to fair share fees ‘for bona find religious grounds’ and to have their funds go to a nonreligious charity. For religious objections, an amount equivalent to the fair share fee must be sent to the charity.”

Under PSEA’s policy, a religious objector’s money can sit in escrow indefinitely. Until agreement is reached, the automatically-drafted funds are placed into an interest-bearing escrow account. Throughout the process, the PSEA has ignored religious objectors’ rights, according to the Fairness Center, to deal with their local representative and has kept all of Ladley’s and Meier’s objections within its own legal department.

The Patriot-News reported:

PSEA spokesman David Broderic said the union had only just learned of the lawsuit and is in the process of reviewing it. But he emphasized that it is a state law that lays the foundation for this union policy.

“We are charged with following the law. We make every effort to accommodate charitable requests,” he said. “And we’ll continue to do that.”

Broderic noted that Ladley and Meier were only among eight educators with religious objections to the fair share fee whose designated charities were under union review. He said out of the union’s total universe of 180,000 members, only 200 have religious objections to paying the fee and their charitable choices have been approved.

Ladley initially wanted her $435 to support the Coalition for Advancing Freedom but PSEA in March deemed it a political organization as well as a religious organization. Its website refers to its belief “in God in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

The approved list of 12 charities which Ladley could make a contribution, are:

  • Alzheimer’s Association
  • American Cancer Society
  • American Diabetes Association
  • American Heart Association
  • American Red Cross
  • Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
  • Make-A-Wish Foundation
  • March of Dimes
  • Muscular Dystrophy Association
  • National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  • Special Olympics
  • United Way

The lawsuit highlights what the Fairness Center claims to be “hypocrisy,” in that the “review of these organizations’ IRS Form 990 documents reveals that many of them spend a significant amount of money on undeniably political activities.” The corresponding amount to each organization is the amount in 2012 they spent on lobbying.

  • Alzheimer’s Association: $719,000
  • American Heart Association: $2.8 million
  • American Red Cross: $258,000
  • Cystic Fibrosis Foundation: $940,000
  • Muscular Dystrophy Association: $657,000
  • Special Olympics: $186,000
  • United Way: $223,000

The lawsuit claims, “Clearly, the PSEA’s policy does not distinguish “nonpolitical” from “political,” or even “political” from “too political.” Instead, the PSEA’s policy distinguishes organizations with which it fundamentally agrees from those organizations with which it fundamentally disagrees, precisely the type of imposition of values prohibited by the First Amendment.”

 

 

Jana Benscoter

Jana Benscoter is the editor of Watchdog Wire - Pennsylvania. Contact her at Pennsylvania@WatchdogWire.com and find her on Twitter @jbenz51. Jana has worked in journalism for more than a decade, during which she’s covered topics, including: business, education, local and state government, and political corruption. Jana has been published in The Boston Globe, The Daily Caller, Drexel Alumni Magazine, Carolina Journal, Guilford Woman Magazine, The Harrisburg-Patriot News, The High Point Enterprise, Kinston Free Press, Lincoln Tribune Online, the Rhinoceros Times, and others.

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Categories: Courts & Law, Education, Government Transparency, Labor / Unions, Must Read, News, Policy, Politics, Uncategorized
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