A high school teacher and Boynton Beach city commissioner says leaders of the Palm Beach County teachers union are blocking him from running for union president because he took a leave of absence to care for a dying relative two years ago.
Justin Katz, a Park Vista High teacher elected last year to the city commission, announced plans in November to run for union president, saying that he would bring “fresh blood and some more youthful leadership.”
But on Saturday the 32-year-old social studies teacher took to Facebook to announce that the union, the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association, had told him he was ineligible to run.
The reason, he says, is because he took a leave of absence for a semester to care for his grandmother in New Jersey, who was dying of Parkinson’s disease at the time.
During his leave, he didn’t pay dues and his union membership lapsed, he said. Though he renewed his membership when he returned to work, he said he was told recently that the lapse rendered him ineligible to run this year.
He said on Facebook that he is appealing the decision but declined to comment further when reached by The Palm Beach Post.
“To punish an individual for taking time off to spend time with a dying relative is a stunt you would expect a cutthroat, anti-labor corporation (to) attempt,” he wrote on Facebook. “But for a union to do it to one of the very members they claim to be fighting to defend and protect is beyond my comprehension and the realm of basic human decency.”
Kathi Gundlach, the union’s outgoing president, declined to comment.
The union’s rules, Katz says, requires presidential candidates to have two consecutive years of union membership prior to running.
But while Katz has been a member for far longer, he said his membership lapsed when he took a semester off to care for his grandmother.
When he was weighing a run, he said that he checked with the union and says he was assured that there was no problem with his candidacy.
“I was told just a few weeks ago by CTA staff that I was in good standing, and that my (family) leave would not count against me in qualifying to run for CTA offices,” he wrote.
Katz ran unsuccessfully for a county school board seat in 2014 before winning a seat on the Boynton Beach city commission.
His announcement on Saturday was met with dismay by some local elected officials.
“That doesn’t sound like a sound decision,” state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, wrote.
Palm Beach County Commissioner David Kerner called the decision “crazy.”
“When a new, young and intelligent candidate comes along talking on the issues that have plagued the CTA for years,the old ineffective regime goes into shenanigans mode,” wrote Boynton Beach city commissioner Joe Casello.