Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court freed all public sector workers from paying agency fees to a union they didn’t join. Since then, many workers who are dissatisfied with their union have resigned and withheld their agency fees.
But unbelievably, some haven't been allowed to leave.
For example, William Neely, a psychiatric aide at Berks County’s Wernersville State Hospital, has filed a lawsuit to restore his fundamental right to freely join and leave an organization. He wants to leave his union, AFSCME 13, because they use his dues for politics he disagrees with.
With representation from public-interest law firm The Fairness Center, Neely is challenging “maintenance of membership,” a state provision prohibiting public employees from leaving a union outside of one 15-day window every few years. Neely’s union won’t let him leave until June of 2019—and will continue deducting dues from his paycheck.
According to The Fairness Center:
Mr. Neely had been a union member for many years; however, he recently resigned his AFSCME, Council 13 membership because he believed that the union no longer represented his interests or beliefs….Mr. Neely contends in this lawsuit that the union’s failure to honor his resignation violates his constitutional rights to freedom of association and speech.
There is clear harm being done to William Neely when he is forced to financially support and remain a member of an organization. This case appeals to the essence of America's constitutional rights of free association and free speech.
Government workers like Neely are trapped paying thousands of dollars to organizations they don't support. Even worse, unions are not required to inform anyone of this resignation restriction. If a member misses the resignation window or doesn't follow the exact steps their union requires, they have to wait years for their next opportunity.
As the lawsuit awaits its day in court, the legislature has also proposed bills that advocate for workers like William Neely. Rep. Fred Keller’s HB 2593 would alert workers of this resignation window and expand the timeframe to 45 days. And Rep. Greg Rothman’s HB 2625 would stop the resignation restrictions entirely.
Meanwhile, Sen. John Eichelberger will soon introduce a comprehensive bill to democratize public sector labor, including eliminating maintenance of membership. On Thursday, the Senate will hold a hearing with experts testifying on how these reforms can empower workers and align Pennsylvania law with the constitution and court precedent.
It's encouraging that even as government unions try every tactic to trap workers into paying dues and fees, lawmakers and public interest groups like The Fairness Center are standing up for government employees in our state. As Neely and other workers across the nation demand freedom from forced membership, legislators and union leaders should listen and respect their right to resign.