Francisco Molina has a simple expectation of public sector unions: “They are supposed to help us, represent us, not hurt us.”
After he got his dream job helping children at the Lehigh County Office of Children and Youth, he became a full member of SEIU Local 668 and even served as a shop steward. Yet, over the course of his 14 years as a social services aide, Francisco became disillusioned by his union leadership’s tactics. His disappointment came to a head when their deceit devolved into outright harassment after he voiced his frustrations.
Watch WFMZ-TV reporter Justin Backover’s excellent story on Francisco here.
Last January, while Francisco was serving as shop steward, his union asked county workers to sign new membership cards, claiming their current cards were invalid. What union leaders didn’t tell members was the fine print obligated them to pay dues even if they left the union. Alarmed, Francisco revealed the fine print to his co-workers.
The union’s retaliation was swift. Francisco explains,
I was blacklisted by my members, I was harassed. The last straw for me was in June or July of 2018 when they reached out to my daughter.
Fed up and unsure where to turn, Francisco publicly asked the Lehigh County Commissioners to protect those workers who didn’t want to join the union.
How ironic that a union worker had to ask his employer to protect him and his coworkers from their own union!
Despite not signing the new membership card, union dues were still deducted from Francisco’s paycheck throughout 2018. When he asked the union to stop taking dues in June, they refused. So, he officially resigned his union membership via certified mail. He filed the resignation paperwork in July. Then, in mid-August he was suddenly dismissed from his job with little explanation.
On January 7, Francisco filed a lawsuit against SEIU Local 668 with the help of the law firm the Fairness Center. He’s asking the union to return the dues they took from his paycheck in 2018, but he says the case is ultimately about standing up for his rights: “This case is not about money, it’s about principle and protecting the right of people to choose.”
Since the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus vs AFSCME last June, many in the media have questioned why union membership hasn’t plummeted. Francisco Molina’s case highlights the primary reason. Strict “maintenance of membership” laws trap public servants, preventing them from resigning until the last 15 days of three to five-year contracts. Last year Rep. Fred Keller introduced HB 2593 to expand the resignation window for workers, but it never came to a full house vote.
Now, government workers like Francisco and William Neely are going to court to overturn these restrictions. The results of these cases will set an important precedent. Will our courts protect workers from abuse and affirm their right to resign from a union?
Sadly, maintenance of membership restrictions are just one of many hurdles public sector workers face when it comes to exercising their rights in the workplace.
Whether child service workers, public school teachers, prison guards, or state workers, all of our public servants should be free to join or leave a union without restrictions.