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Pennsylvania teachers sue union over nonmember fee donations

| Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, 10:48 p.m.

Two Pennsylvania teachers sued the state's largest teaching union on Thursday, claiming the union overstepped its authority in denying teachers the ability to select charities that receive donations of nonmember fees.

Filed in Lancaster County court, the suit alleges the Pennsylvania State Education Association holds in escrow dues from nonmembers who object to joining the union.

By state law, objectors may contribute the equivalent of the fair share fees — annual alternative fees paid in lieu of membership dues — to a non-religious charity approved by the Internal Revenue Service.

Plaintiffs Chris Meier, 35, of Lancaster County and Jane Ladley, 61, of Chester County argued that PSEA unfairly bottlenecked their requests.

“I'm doing this on principle and for the other teachers coming up through the ranks, so that they have these options available to them,” Ladley said.

Spokesman David Broderic said PSEA routinely gets about 200 people who opt out of membership.

“Of those 200, about five people make requests that go under review because their organizations are found to have some religious connection or who possess an obvious conflict of interest,” he said. “The process usually doesn't take long.”

Ladley contends otherwise.

She chose to send her $435.14 first to the Sustainable Freedom Scholarship and second to the Constitutional Organization of Liberty. She was rejected.

Meier sent the same amount in 2013 and 2014 to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which Broderic said is a conflict of interest because the group frequently enters into litigation against PSEA.

“That's exactly the point,” said Nate Bohlander, assistant general counsel with the free market nonprofit The Fairness Center, which represents the teachers. “Their charities meet the one sole requirement — that they be nonreligious — but they say Ms. Ladley's is too political and Mr. Meier's is a conflict of interest. They may not like it, but they shouldn't stand in the way of their rights.”

At the very least, Bohlander said, he hopes the lawsuit spurs discussion of “a flawed law.”

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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