No organization should be able to force workers to remain members. Sadly, that’s the reality for thousands of Pennsylvania public sector workers. While the Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME freed workers from funding a union to which they don’t belong, union leaders continue to infringe upon workers’ rights.
Following Janus, Pennsylvania union members Megan James, William Lester, and Angela Pease resigned from their union, SEIU Local 668—but the union denied their resignation and continued taking dues from their paychecks.
Now, they filed a class-action lawsuit against their union and other government officials for the right to leave an organization they no longer support.
Represented by public interest law firm the Fairness Center, they are seeking reimbursement of dues wrongly collected and to overturn resignation restrictions known as “maintenance of membership.” This provision in government union contracts and Pennsylvania state law blocks members from resigning except for a 15-day window prior to their contract’s expiration date.
SEIU Local 668 leaders use maintenance of membership to keep workers in the union for years, taking between $400 and $700 in annual dues.
By trapping these workers, maintenance of membership counteracts the rights recognized by Janus—to not pay money to a union as a condition of their employment. Workers across America are challenging maintenance of membership provisions as unconstitutional. In response to a similar class action lawsuit in Ohio, union leaders recently agreed to stop restricting when members could resign, according to the National Right to Work Foundation.
Megan, William, and Angela are fighting for the right to resign from the union, and as a class action lawsuit, this case will impact all workers in their union who have had their resignations denied. Yet, workers across the state also face this obstacle. For example, when long-time union member Francisco Molina opted not to sign a new membership card, the union continued to deduct dues from his paycheck. He then submitted his union resignation and was soon dismissed from his job with little explanation.
Amidst these legal challenges, Pennsylvania lawmakers can reform maintenance of membership, restoring public employees’ right to resign.
Lawmakers can also ensure workers know their rights. Sadly, 57 percent of teachers do not know it’s unconstitutional for government unions to collect fees from nonmembers. These workers deserve to be informed.
Fortunately, Sen. Scott Martin is planning to introduce legislation ensuring workers know union membership or fees are not required for employment. This will protect workers like Megan and Francisco and bring Pennsylvania law in line with the Constitution.
Workers deserve to have their rights respected.