Pennsylvania Teachers Seeking Legal Challenge to Forced Union Dues

From the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, of which CEAFU is a Special Project.

PA teachers opposed to public sector forced unionism ask court to rule against them to move case toward U.S. Supreme Court

Pittsburgh, PA (May 19, 2017) – Four Pennsylvania teachers have filed a brief in federal court seeking judgment in their case against the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) union. The teachers are represented by staff attorneys from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Fairness Center.

These teachers, led by lead plaintiff Greg Hartnett, are challenging the constitutionality of mandatory union dues and fees for public-sector employees. The teachers are employed by three different school districts and have filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. Their case joins six other National Right to Work Foundation-litigated cases in other states that seek to win a ruling on the issue from the United States Supreme Court.

Nearly 40 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that public-sector workers can be compelled as a condition of employment to pay union fees. However, in two recent National Right to Work Foundation-won Supreme Court decisions, Knox v. SEIU (2012) and Harris v. Quinn (2014), the High Court suggested it was ready to revisit its 1977 precedent in Abood, expressing skepticism about the constitutionality of public sector union officials’ forced-dues privileges.

In the majority opinion in Knox v. SEIU, which struck down a Service Employee International Union (SEIU) forced dues scheme, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “This form of compelled speech and association imposes a ‘significant impingement on First Amendment rights.’ The justification for permitting a union to collect fees from nonmembers – to prevent them from free-riding on the union’s efforts – is an anomaly.”

The brief filed in Hartnett notes that, because lower courts are bound by past Supreme Court precedents, only the Supreme Court could issue the ruling the teachers seek. The brief therefore asks the district court to grant judgement against the teachers to clear the way for this case to move to the U.S. Court of Appeals and eventually to the Supreme Court.

“Americans overwhelmingly agree that forced dues are wrong. It is an especially egregious violation of the First Amendment for public servants to be required to subsidize union officials’ speech as a condition of working for their own government,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “In Knox the Supreme Court majority acknowledged that compulsory union dues create a serious impingement on the First Amendment rights of public employees. That case only challenged an increase in forced fees imposed without notice. In this case, the teachers are simply asking that the High Court apply the same strict scrutiny to all public sector forced union fees.”

Twenty-nine states have laws that protect public school teachers from forced unionism. Public polling shows that nearly 80 percent of Americans and union members support the Right to Work principle of voluntary unionism.