As Appeal Is Filed Challenging Union Work in Philadelphia, AZ Ruling Has Local Implications
August 17, 2015, Philadelphia, Pa.—A panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals has unanimously struck down a practice letting certain public employees work full-time as union representatives while drawing public pay, a ruling with implications for Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (“PFT”) routinely takes teachers from the classroom to perform union work. These “ghost teachers” receive taxpayer-funded salaries and pension benefits without stepping foot in a classroom.
“The PFT should take note of Arizona’s ruling,” said David Osborne, General Counsel at the Fairness Center, which will file an appeal today with the Philadelphia County Court on behalf of Americans for Fair Treatment (“AFT”), challenging the PFT’s “ghost teacher” scheme. “For decades, PFT has siphoned teachers from the classroom, a practice that hurts teachers and students in Philadelphia. Public servants should not be staffing union offices, period. If unions need employees, they can hire their own.”
The appeal comes after a Philadelphia judge ruled in July that AFT, an organization representing Philadelphia teachers and taxpayers, lacked standing in its suit seeking to end PFT’s “ghost teacher” practice.
Yet, teachers, students, and taxpayers suffer as PFT raids classrooms to staff its union offices and, in some cases, do the union’s political work. PFT President Jerry Jordan, a ghost teacher himself, has spent almost three decades working for the union while collecting a public salary, accruing pension benefits, and receiving free health care.
“Public education should prioritize students, not union leaders,” David Osborne continued. “The Arizona court’s ruling is not simply the right legal result; it’s common sense, and Philadelphia should follow its example.”
In February, the Fairness Center filed a lawsuit in Philadelphia County court on behalf of its client Americans for Fair Treatment, a nonprofit membership organization, seeking to end the practice of union work on school time, which illegally devotes public resources to 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 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.
# # #
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.