The Fairness Center Wins Commonwealth Court Appeal
September 8, 2016, HARRISBURG, Pa.—Today, the Commonwealth Court ordered the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) to enforce a law banning the use of government union dues for political purposes. In 2014, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and National Education Association (NEA) violated state law by using Pennsylvania members’ dues to support then-candidate Tom Wolf for governor.
“The Commonwealth Court stated today that state law cannot be ignored with impunity,” commented Karin Sweigart, deputy general counsel for the Fairness Center. “It’s taken 45 years, but finally the PLRB has been ordered to enforce its statute restricting the political spending of public unions. This is a first step to ending public union leaders’ decades-long practice of illegally using members’ dues to advance their own political agendas.”
In 2014, the Fairness Center filed an unfair labor practice charge with the PLRB after Mary Trometter, then a PSEA member, received a letter from the union urging Trometter’s husband to “join Mary” in voting for Wolf. The letter was paid for by the NEA Advocacy Fund, which is funded completely by members’ dues, including the dues of Pennsylvania teachers.
After Trometter blew the whistle on the teachers’ union’s manipulative mailers, which were sent to 20,000 Pennsylvania households, the PSEA apologized and admitted funding the mailers using union members’ dues.
Pennsylvania’s Public Employe Relations Act (PERA) specifically prohibits government employees’ union dues from being used “either directly or indirectly” to support political candidates, organizations, or parties.
The nation’s largest teachers’ union, the NEA, and its state affiliate has long disregarded the law, and the PLRB has never enforced it since its passage in 1970.
Last year, the PLRB attempted to avoid enforcing this statute and punt the issue to the Attorney General. The Fairness Center appealed this decision to the Commonwealth Court.
In the Commonwealth Court’s opinion remanding Trometter’s charge to the PLRB, Judge Kevin Brobson states unequivocally:
Accordingly, we conclude that the [PLRB] erred in determining that it lacks the authority, and thus the jurisdiction, to enforce Section 1701 of PERA. To the contrary, the [PLRB] has the statutory duty and obligation to enforce and implement that section of PERA.
“This law has been on the books for more than four decades,” continued Sweigart. “While what happened to Mary Trometter was egregious, it’s really a drop in the bucket in terms of the millions of dollars of government union members’ dues that union leaders spend on politics. We fully agree with the Commonwealth Court that it’s time for the PLRB to stop turning a blind eye to repeated violations and enforce state law.”
Section 1701 of the Public Employe Relations Act (PERA) states, “No employe organization shall make any contribution out of the funds of the employe organization either directly or indirectly to any political party or organization or in support of any political candidate for public office.”
- Letter from NEA / PSEA to Trometter’s husband
- Unfair labor practice charge, 11-17-2014
- Commonwealth Court remand opinion, 9-8-2016
Karin Sweigart is available for comment today. Please contact Conner Drigotas, 844.293.1001, firstname.lastname@example.org, schedule an interview.
# # #
The Fairness Center is a nonprofit, public interest law firm offering free legal services to those facing unjust treatment from public employee union leaders. For more information, visit www.FairnessCenter.org.