Merits of Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ Union Release Practice Remain Unaddressed
November 22, 2016, Philadelphia, Pa.—Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled that Americans for Fair Treatment, an organization representing Philadelphia teachers and taxpayers, lacked standing in its suit seeking to end the Philadelphia Federation of Teacher’s long-running “ghost teacher” scheme. The court affirmed an earlier ruling of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
David Osborne, President and General Counsel at the Fairness Center, which represents Americans for Fair Treatment in the suit, issued the following statement in response:
The PFT’s practice of siphoning teachers from the classroom to work for the union full-time is an illegitimate burden on Philadelphia taxpayers, students, and teachers that should not be allowed to continue. These ghost teachers remain on district payroll, accruing seniority, receiving taxpayer-funded salaries and benefits, and deprive students of experienced classroom teachers.
Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Court has defined standing to challenge this practice so narrowly that it will be extraordinarily difficult for legitimate Philadelphia teachers to stop ghost teaching through litigation.
As a result, the union has insulated itself from legal challenges to this harmful practice and continues to pull qualified teachers out of the struggling School District of Philadelphia to staff its operations and engage in political advocacy. We plan to request a re-hearing before a full panel of the Commonwealth Court on the issue of standing.
The court did not rule on the merits of the case. The legality of ghost teaching, or full-time union release, remains in question.
In the absence of an immediate legal remedy, Governor Wolf, the General Assembly, and advocates for Philadelphia students should push to enact legislation banning the practice of full-time union release in Philadelphia and throughout the state.
The Fairness Center also represents a taxpayer and former school board member in a similar case challenging ghost teachers in Allentown, the state’s third-largest school district. This case remains before the Commonwealth Court and is unaffected by their ruling in the Philadelphia case.
In February of 2015, the Fairness Center filed a lawsuit in Philadelphia County court on behalf of its client Americans for Fair Treatment, a non-profit membership organization whose members include Philadelphia teachers and taxpayers, seeking to end the practice of union work on school time, or “ghost teaching,” which illegally uses public resources for the benefit of a private organization.
Union work on school time, sometimes called “release time,” “official time,” or “union leave,” is particularly egregious in Philadelphia where the district’s collective bargaining agreement with the PFT allows up to 63 ghost teachers like PFT President Jerry Jordan to:
- Receive a publicly-funded district salary
- Retain district-provided insurance and benefits
- Accrue seniority as if they were still teaching
- Receive credit toward state pensions
Hard working city teachers are suffering as a consequence: Under the district’s “last-in, first-out” policy, a teacher with years of dedicated classroom teaching experience would be fired before one of these ghost teachers if layoffs became necessary.
Though the PFT appears to be voluntarily reimbursing the district for much of the cost associated with these ghost teachers, the collective bargaining agreement between the PFT and the district does not require them to do so. Additionally, there is no evidence that the state has been reimbursed for public pension costs, amounting to $1 million since 1999.
Americans for Fair Treatment is a nonprofit membership organization which equips and empowers Americans to receive fair treatment from government unions. For more information, visit americansforfairtreatment.org.
David Osborne is available for comment today. Contact Conner Drigotas at 717.409.6964 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an interview.
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The Fairness Center is a nonprofit, public interest law firm offering free legal services to those hurt by public-sector union officials. For more information, visit www.fairnesscenter.org.