The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board erred when it refused to investigate a college professor's complaint involving the use of teacher union dues to promote the 2014 candidacy of Gov. Tom Wolf, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
State law prohibits public employee unions from using union funds to support political candidates. Mary Trometter, an assistant professor of culinary arts at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, says the state's largest teachers' union violated the law by sending her a letter in support of Wolf and running articles praising the Democrat in its magazine.
The labor relations board claimed it had no authority to investigate possible violations of the law and referred Trometter's complaint to the state attorney general.
Commonwealth Court said in Thursday's ruling that the board shirked its responsibility.
The board "ignored the General Assembly's intent that it, and not the Attorney General, police compliance" with the law and thus "abdicated its statutory responsibilities," the court said.
The ruling sends the professor's complaint back to the board for consideration.
Trometter's attorney, Karin Sweigart, hailed the ruling as a "hopeful first step to end the illegal funding of public unions' political agendas."
Trometter had objected to a political mailing sent shortly before the November 2014 election to her husband by the PSEA and its affiliate, the National Education Association, urging him to "join Mary" in voting for Wolf. She said she didn't support Wolf.
The November edition of the PSEA magazine, which featured numerous pro-Wolf articles, similarly violated the state's Public Employee Relations Act, she said in her complaint.
The union said Thursday that Pennsylvania law and U.S. Supreme Court rulings permit unions to "privately communicate with members and their families on any subject."
"The truth is no dues dollars are contributed to political candidates or spent on public communications about candidates. Communicating with members and their families is not the same as contributing to candidates," union spokesman Wythe Keever said in a statement.
A board spokeswoman declined comment on the ruling and did not say whether there would be an appeal.