Do you really have liberty if it is not legally protected?
Five Pennsylvanian corrections officers likely asked themselves that question when their union, the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association (PSCOA), told them they couldn’t resign their “voluntary” membership.
Following the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision in June 2018—which ruled non-union workers couldn’t be forced to pay fair share fees to a union—these workers requested to leave their union. But the PSCOA denied their request, citing “maintenance of membership” provisions in state law and union contracts, which limit resignation to a 15-day window every few years.
In response, the officers, William Weyandt, Mark Mills, Chris Taylor, Brandon Westover, and Cory Yedlosky, took their union to court with the help of the Fairness Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. They’re seeking to overturn maintenance of membership and recoup the dues taken from their paychecks after trying to resign. As a class-action lawsuit, a favorable ruling would pave the way for 9,000 Pennsylvania corrections workers to leave their union on their own timeline.
Megan James, William Lester, and Angela Pease similarly filed a class action lawsuit against the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who ignored their resignations. In a huge pivot, and as a result of this lawsuit, SEIU reached a new agreement with the state to allow members to resign at any time.
Clearly, even union leaders and state officials recognize it’s unfair to restrict Pennsylvanians’ right to join and leave organizations at will.
Leaving a union should not be this difficult—and the mounting lawsuits underscore the need for legislative clarity. This should start with workers’ awareness about the rights they now have under the Janus decision. The Employee Rights Notification Act (House Bill 785) will require the government to alert public-sector employees about their constitutional rights to withdraw from their union without paying a fee.
Another significant step forward, House Bill 506, will eliminate maintenance of membership, allowing worker to withdraw from the union at any time. All of these bills have the same goal: allowing people like Weyandt, Mills, Taylor, Westover, Yedlosky, James, Lester, and Pease to exercise freedom of choice in their workplace representation.
The Janus decision came down a year ago: it’s long past time for the legislature to step up and protect the basic liberties of Pennsylvania workers.