Issues

Suit: Union Withholds Teacher’s Charitable Contribution

Alleges violations of First Amendment rights

Educators from Pennsylvania hold a rally outside the Capitol Building in Harrisburg, Pa. / AP

A Pennsylvania high school teacher is suing the state’s largest teachers union for violating her right to free speech.

Linda Misja, a 35-year veteran high school teacher, alleges that the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) is discriminating against her by refusing to allow her to donate dues money to People Concerned for the Unborn Child, a pro-life charity.

"The PSEA engages in the practice of perpetuating the charity selection process indefinitely, imposing viewpoint-based restrictions on her speech and association, and stripping her of protections consistent with Pennsylvania law," the suit says.

Misja is one of 200 religious objectors affiliated with PSEA, a status that allows her to abstain from full membership in the union. Pennsylvania, which is not a right-to-work state, has a policy that requires religious objectors to contribute the equivalent of dues payments to charity.

However, that money is handled by the union, and the PSEA can withhold those donations if it chooses. It refused to cut a check for the pro-life cause, as well as Misja’s second choice, the National Rifle Association Foundation.

Misja’s suit claims that denying her the ability to give to a cause of her own choosing represents an unconstitutional violation of her conscience and due process rights. The ordeal began in 2011 when her local school district negotiated a contract with the PSEA that made schools a closed-shop system, mandating that all teachers pay fees to the union.

"The funds taken from Ms. Misja’s paycheck are her earned income, yet the PSEA’s practice, if held to be in accordance with the statute, deprive her of due process and unconstitutionally restrict her ability to direct her funds," the suit says.

A PSEA spokesman said in a statement that the union respected the rights of religious objectors. He denied that Misja’s case has been mishandled, saying the union has relationships with dozens of charities, including two pregnancy clinics that seek to provide alternatives to abortion.

"PSEA and its affiliates have and continue to provide reasonable accommodation to objectors such as Ms. Misja, but the Pennsylvania law also states the charity receiving the fair share fee must be mutually agreed upon by the objector and the exclusive bargaining agent," spokesman Wythe Keever said (emphasis original). "In this case, Ms. Misja and PSEA have not mutually agreed upon her first choice as the charity to receive the fair share fee. PSEA remains willing to work with Ms. Misja to identify another charity to receive the fair share fee."

Misja told the Washington Free Beacon that she seeks to return control over charitable choices to teachers, rather than union operatives.

"I want my money to go to a charity I have connections to, believe in, and am 100 percent assured is not going against my deeply held religious beliefs," she said.

She is receiving legal support from the Fairness Center, a labor watchdog. David Osborne, the group’s general counsel, said that the case could have major implications on state policy.

"It’s absurd and self-serving on its face and puts religious objectors like Linda in an untenable situation where they never know which charity—apart from the union’s pre-approved list—they can choose to support," he said. "There are clear constitutional implications here. Because Pennsylvania is one of the 25 states that force public employees to pay union fees, certain constitutional protections follow."