HARRISBURG, Penn. (April 4, 2003) — In a long-running civil rights suit brought by Pennsylvania teachers, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that local affiliates of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) union must have their books independently audited to justify how they spend teachers’ compulsory union fees.
The ruling came in a case brought by Marsha Otto and six other non-union Pennsylvania teachers who challenged how PSEA union officials were spending their compulsory dues. The teachers, who were represented by attorneys with the National Right to Work Foundation, charged union officials were illegally using their forced dues to pay for non-collective bargaining activities while refusing to provide meaningful financial disclosure.
“PSEA union lawyers have fought tooth and nail for years in order to keep teachers in the dark about how their forced dues are spent,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation. “With this victory, Pennsylvania teachers will finally have an opportunity to hold the union accountable.”
The teachers brought suit because they wanted union officials to provide an independent audit detailing how their compulsory dues were being spent, so they could verify that their money was not illegally spent on union politics and other activities unrelated to collective bargaining. In an earlier settlement, union officials agreed to return amounts spent for certain types of non-collective bargaining activity, but they refused to agree to provide the independent audits required by U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
The actions of teacher unions’ officials violated the teachers’ rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments as articulated in the Foundation-won Supreme Court decisions Abood v. Detroit Board of Education and Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson. Under Abood and Hudson, teachers that exercise their right not to join a union cannot be legally forced to pay for union activities unrelated to collective bargaining -- such as politics, organizing, public relations, and lobbying -- and must be provided several procedural protections.
“This settlement is a small step toward freeing teachers from being forced to support the PSEA’s political agenda,” said Gleason. “But the only way to fully protect teachers from this kind of abuse is to end compulsory unionism.”