Union Leaders: Resignation Denied

William Neely is a psychiatric aide in Berks County and a 15-year union member. Mr. Neely felt his union leaders, AFSCME 13, no longer represented his interests, and attempted to resign membership. Yet his union leadership denied him the right to leave, keeping him trapped, while glad to collect his dues though he doesn't support the organization.

Thus, it should be no surprise that AFSCME hasn't seen a large number of union resignations, as reported in Governing.com following the Janus v. AFSCME ruling. In Pennsylvania, state law and union contracts deny workers the right to resign, using a provision called “maintenance of membership.”

This policy traps workers in their unions by limiting when and how they can resign.

Janus protected non-union members from having to pay “fair share fees” to government unions to keep their job. As an immediate result of this decision, thousands of employees no longer give part of their paycheck to a union they didn’t join.

The National Education Association teachers’ union lost 87,000 fee-payers, including over 6,000 in Pennsylvania after the Supreme Court's decision in June. Yet they also saw 17,000 members—including around 800 Pennsylvania educators—leave the union once they no longer faced paying an agency fee.

In just one of the unions representing these employees (AFSCME 13), nearly 15,000 fee-payers will have more money in their paychecks. According to figures from the Pennsylvania Office of Administration (OA), nearly $6 million in agency fees will no longer be forcefully taken from state government employees.

So why has AFSCME not see many resignations from its members, as Governing reports? It's maintenance of membership policies, not workers' free choice, that prevents members from leaving.

Maintenance of membership clauses, negotiated into many public-sector union contracts, require workers to remain union members until a narrow window before their contract expires. Typically, this window is 15 days every three to five years—and if workers miss the window, or are unaware it exists, they may wait years for another chance to resign.

For example, under the contract signed by Gov. Tom Wolf, AFSCME 13 members must wait until June 15 to June 30 of 2019 to resign. If they miss that window, they could have to wait another four years.

If workers had the right to join and leave unions when they choose, membership figures in Pennsylvania would likely tell a different story.

Mr. Neely has filed a lawsuit contending such forced membership violates his constitutional rights. Public sector workers across the nation, including in New Jersey and Oregon, are also filing lawsuits over denied resignation requests.

It’s no surprise state governments are not seeing significant declines in union membership given the many ways union leaders have colluded with government officials to trap workers. For this reason, it’s increasingly important for legislators to prioritize transparency and pass policies that let all union workers know their options and easily exercise their choice.