Pennsylvania Bill Seeks to Amend Union Leave Regulations

(Photo: Pittsburgh Post Gazette)

(Photo: Pittsburgh Post Gazette)

In Pennsylvania, Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny) has authored a bill that would entirely or partially end union leave for teachers.

One portion of the measure would stop districts and unions from negotiating union leave into a classroom teacher's contract. The act would minimize the amount of time and the number of teachers who would be allowed to be on union leave. Additionally, teachers unions would be required to reimburse schools for any wages, benefits, and payments for substitute teachers related to union leave, writes Colt Shaw for The Morning Call.

The House Education Committee passed Saccone's bill with a 15-9 vote.

"We've all heard the reports of the ghost teachers … [costing] millions of dollars in mostly our larger schools, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, those kinds of big cities," Saccone said. Rather than teaching "they're out doing political activity for their unions. No taxpayer in this state is going to abide that at a time when we're in tight budgets and the school districts are suffering."

Meanwhile, Philadelphia and Allentown districts and teachers unions are fighting lawsuits, filed with the assistance of the Fairness Center, a nonprofit public interest law firm, that maintain it is not legal for union presidents and officers to leave the classroom but still be paid to handle labor issues.

Scott Armstrong, a former Allentown School Board member, and Allentown resident Steven Ramos filed the lawsuit against the teachers union and school district. They stated that Debbie Tretter, the union president, was breaking the law by being paid when she was not in the classroom.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesperson David Broderic said that many times a teacher will take full-time leave to perform the tasks necessary for being their local chapter of the union's president. Normally, this is a situation that is handled on the local level, he added, and the union has reimbursed the schools.

Since the issue has been taken care of by the unions and the schools, Broderic wonders why Saccone feels it is necessary to legislate the matter. Saccone, who is an adjunct professor, was asked if he reimburses the state taxpayers' for his time spent in the classroom, but Saccone said his teaching is done on his own time.

Two other bills have been proposed by Rep. Anthony DeLuca that focus on outside income of lawmakers. One would become an amendment to the state Constitution to limit legislators' outside income to 35% of their state paycheck. Legislators earn $85,339 and caucus leaders are paid more.

The other measure would force officials of the state to report any income over $1,300 in the past year, along with the name and address of the employer.

Pennsylvania Watchdog's Evan Grossman says there is also a bill moving through the legislature that was introduced in March by Sen. Pat Stefano (R-District 32) that aims at outlawing the practice of union leave altogether in the state.

WFMZ-TV says Tretter's salary was $81,608 and, with other benefits, her total income was $126,723 in the 2015-16 school year. But the Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) does not think that taxpayers should be responsible for the pensions of a "ghost teachers" like Tretter.

PSERS adds that any retirement credits that have been wrongly awarded "must be removed." The Fairness Center has asked the court to require the Allentown Education Association to reimburse the state and the district for salary, benefit, and pension costs since 2000.

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