PA Greg Hartnett

Greg Hartnett (left) is the lead plaintiff in the Hartnett v. PSEA lawsuit.

Believing the case still has merit, representatives of nonprofit, public interest law firm The Fairness Center are putting their muscle behind an appeal involving four Pennsylvania teachers and their union.

Harrisburg-based Fairness Center initially provided its resources in 2017 in the case of Hartnett v. PSEA.

Pennsylvania educator Gregory J. Hartnett and three other teachers in the state – Elizabeth M. Galaska, Robert G. Brough Jr. and John M. Cress – sued the Pennsylvania State Education Association and its local affiliates on claims they were being forced to pay dues to their local teachers unions.

In the intervening years, the case has been working its way through Pennsylvania’s judicial system. In May, the state’s trial court entered its memorandum and final order, dismissing and directing closure of the teachers’ case.

David Osborne, president and general counsel with The Fairness Center, said it is his organization’s opinion that the state’s trial court “erred in failing to grant requested relief and concluding that teachers’ case was moot” – a sentiment captured in a new 72-page complaint that was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

“The reason that we appealed is to force the trial court to do what it should’ve done in the first place,” Osborne said in an interview with The Center Square.

Passages in the introduction of the new complaint further lay out Osborne's and The Fairness Center’s stance on the May ruling.

“The trial court should have applied Supreme Court precedent to Pennsylvania law and provided the declaratory and injunctive relief teachers requested,” the complaint states. “Instead, it concluded the unions’ voluntary change in position deprived it of subject matter jurisdiction to do so.”

From the get-go, Osborne said he and others within The Fairness Center have adamantly believed the case Hartnett and the other three teachers brought against their teachers unions was worth pursuing.

This case was filed shortly before the landmark federal ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public sector unions could not require non-union members to pay them fees.

The National Right to Work Foundation and the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center represented Mark Janus of Illinois in the case. The Fairness Center also filed an amicus brief in 2017 in support of Janus.

Speaking to the more local case involving Hartnett and his teaching colleagues, Osborne said the parallels between it and the Janus case have been obvious. For this reason, he said, he believes the trial court should have rendered a similar judgment.

“It was the exact same reason Mark Janus filed his case,” Osborne said of Hartnett v. PSEA.

The PSEA has not commented publicly on the appeal. But it and other like-minded organizations have doubled-down on a stance to support labor unions.

In a statement given in the aftermath of last year’s Janus v. AFSCME decision, Eric Rosso, executive director of Pennsylvania Spotlight, pointed to continued support of labor unions, as evidenced by what he described as “teacher uprisings” and “new sectors of the economy organizing.”

“As long as there is collective struggle for dignity at work, the labor movement will grow and thrive, despite setbacks dealt from a rigged political decision by the Supreme Court,” Rosso said in the statement.