Before landmark U.S. SC ruling, Pa. teachers sued over payment of union fees

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jul 2, 2018

PITTSBURGH – A trio of retired and current public schoolteachers have initiated potential class action litigation in federal court over the legality of a state law that mandates them to pay “fair-share fees” to the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), its affiliates or a union-approved charity.

Arthur Diamond of the Chichester School District in Delaware County, Jeffrey Schwartz of the South Middleton School District in Cumberland County and retired educator Sandra H. Ziegler of Bedford filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on June 15 versus the PSEA and the National Education Association (NEA), as well as Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Labor Relations Chairman and Board Members James M. Darby, Albert Mezzaroba and Robert H. Shoop Jr. and Bedford County District Attorney Lesley Childers-Potts.

Through this lawsuit looking to be certified as a class action, the plaintiffs are attempting to represent more than 7,800 school employees who have chosen not to join the PSEA, a union representing more than 187,000 school employees in Pennsylvania.

Per the litigation, Diamond chose not to join the PSEA’s ranks due to disagreements with its “political advocacy” and the “excessive salaries” paid to union leaders, while Schwartz and Ziegler did not do so for disagreements with union regulations which they say go against their personal religious beliefs.

Diamond seeks to represent a section of class plaintiffs called “agency-fee” payers: “All individuals who: (1) Are or previously were employed by the State of Pennsylvania or any of its sub-units, including any school district in the State; (2) Are or were members of bargaining units represented by the PSEA or its chapters or affiliates, yet chose not to become members of the PSEA by not signing membership cards or by choosing to become “agency-fee” payers, for any period of time; and (3) Have had any “agency fees” or “fair-share fees” remitted to PSEA or its affiliates.”

The litigation also provides more information on the religious objectors within the putative class.

“Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Zeigler seek to represent a class of ‘religious objectors.' The class includes all individuals who: (1) Are or were employed by the State of Pennsylvania or any of its sub-units, including any school district in the State; (2) Are or were members of bargaining units represented by the PSEA or its chapters or affiliates; and (3) Are or were religious objectors to the PSEA who elected to have their 'fair-share fees' given to a union-approved charity rather than the union itself,” the lawsuit says.

About 7,500 of the prospective class plaintiffs are “fair-share fee” payers and an additional 300 who are also “religious objectors," for an approximate total of 7,800 potential plaintiffs.

A striking development that may prove to have precedential impact in this case was the Wednesday decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees originating from Illinois.

The nation’s high court decided non-union workers paying fees that go to public sector union collective bargaining agreements was a violation of First Amendment rights.

The plaintiff had argued due to his status as a government employee, issues connected to collective bargaining are political by their very nature, and the First Amendment protected him from having to support such political expression.

For the seeking of a declaratory judgment and state law conversion, the plaintiffs are seeking 19 different forms of relief, including an injunction preventing the state office defendants from enforcing Pennsylvania laws on “fair-share fees” and requiring the PSEA and NEA to reimburse “fair-share fees” obtained from school employees.

The plaintiffs are represented by Sean T. Logue in Carnegie and Jonathan F. Mitchell of Mitchell Law in Austin, Texas.

The defendants have not yet retained legal counsel, according to court records.

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania case 3:18-cv-00128

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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