A Nurse Took her Union to Court, and Won

Cheryl Spano Lonis is a hard-working nurse from Hartford, Connecticut, who was trapped in her union for three years. The New England Health Care Employees Union disregarded her multiple attempts to resign and instead continued to seize dues from her paycheck—over two thousand dollars since 2015.

According to Cheryl, “I objected to funding the union on religious grounds, but union officials ignored my beliefs, taking and spending my money as they saw fit,” (emphasis added).

With the help of the Fairness Center, Cheryl sued her union in October 2018, claiming they violated her First Amendment rights by taking her money to fund views with which she disagrees.

The union just agreed to a settlement, honoring her resignation and refunding over $2,500 of her wages, according to the Fairness Center.  

Sadly, even after the landmark case Janus v. AFSCME eliminated “fair share fees” for nonmembers, many workers are having trouble leaving their union. Trapped in pre-existing membership, they end up paying hundreds of dollars through automatic paycheck deductions to organizations they don’t support.

In Pennsylvania, Francisco Molina refused to sign a new union membership form and tried to resign. The union rejected his attempt, citing “maintenance of membership,” a provision in many union contracts that only allows members to resign during a 15-day window every few years. The union forcibly took dues from his paycheck—and he’s suing to have that money returned.

Similarly, Megan James, William Lester, and Angela Pease tried to resign from SEIU Local 668 but were denied. Now they've filed a class-action lawsuit challenging the “maintenance of membership” practice as unconstitutional.

Pennsylvania government workers should not have to go to court for the right to resign from their union.

“I’m pleased my hard-earned money will be returned to me rather than used to fund union priorities. My lawsuit finally forced them to take me seriously. While I achieved my goal, I should not have had to take these steps in the first place. I hope the union treats other workers better.”

Luckily, lawmakers can enact policy changes to expand workers’ rights by allowing them to more easily resign from their union.

Cheryl Spano Lonis, Molina, James, Lester, and Pease are just a few of the many employees who simply want to continue doing the work they love, and who deserve to not only keep their money, but to only fund causes they support.