PENNSYLVANIA Union asks for new hearing in suit over 'fair-share' fees
A teacher from Grove City was among those who had sued.
HARRISBURG (AP) -- A statewide teachers union is seeking a new federal court hearing in a dispute over how teachers unions should account for spending the fees they collect from nonunion members.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled April 4 that unions can require nonmembers to pay "fair-share" fees, but it also said the unions must present independent audits to show how they spend the money.
The decision was considered a split victory for both the union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and seven western Pennsylvania teachers who sued over fees they paid to the union even though they weren't members. Pennsylvania law requires teachers who aren't union members to pay a share of the fees because they benefit from union negotiations.
PSEA President Patsy Tallarico on Friday said the organization filed a motion seeking a new hearing because the court based its decision on audits from a ruling in a similar case that was "substantially reversed" this week on appeal.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said in a decision Tuesday that smaller unions could inform nonmembers about expenses through other methods, such as providing access to bills, check stubs and canceled checks, rather than an audit.
"We believe that a full audit that can cost as much as $2,000 is unreasonable for a local union whose budget is very small and which collects less in fair-share fees than the cost of an audit," Tallarico said.
The 3rd Circuit, in its April 4 ruling, upheld most of a federal district court's ruling that said if unions collect fees from nonunion members, they must provide independent audits of how the money is being spent.
The case stemmed from a lawsuit filed in 1996 by Marsha Otto, a teacher in the Grove City Area School District, and six other teachers against the National Education Association, the PSEA and their local union affiliates.
The teachers objected to having their money pooled into union resources that included legal aid for other affiliate unions and members who were health-care professionals.
Daniel Cronin, spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation, which represented the teachers, noted that the 3rd Circuit's ruling also cited U.S. Supreme Court decisions that the appellate court said did not exempt smaller unions from the audit requirement.
"PSEA is just trying everything possible to keep teachers in the dark about how their forced union dues are being spent," Cronin said. "It's clear when you look at the decision; it says that the Supreme Court's mandate cannot be bent simply because the cost to the union is great."