Three Pennsylvania public-sector unions amend contracts, allow members to opt out at any time

Three public-sector unions in Pennsylvania have recently ratified labor contracts allowing their members to resign at any time. Previously, these unions allowed members to resign during an annual 15-day window preceding the expiration of their labor contracts. This provision is referred to as a maintenance-of-membership clause.

Who are the unions, and who do they represent?
The three unions are the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 668, the Pennsylvania State Correctional Officers Association, and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1776. Together, these three unions represent approximately 22,500 public-sector workers.

What are the reactions?

  • David Osborne, president and general counsel for the Fairness Center, said, “Maintenance of membership restrictions clearly violate our clients’ constitutional rights, and union officials should have dropped those restrictions a long time ago. It’s a big step in the right direction. Our clients had to sue to enforce their rights and the rights of those who are similarly situated, and only then did their union officials start to doubt their constitutional authority to keep members from resigning.” The Pennsylvania-based Fairness Center is a nonprofit law firm that, according to its website, “provides free legal services to those hurt by public-sector union officials.”
    • The Fairness Center has filed multiple lawsuits challenging maintenance-of membership clauses since the Supreme Court issued its 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. The court found that compelling public-sector workers to give any financial support to a union violates workers’ First Amendment rights.
  • Wendell Young IV, president of UFCW Local 1776, said, “There’s a very basic element of every contract our union has in both the public and private sector and that is if any provision is found to be inconsistent due to a change in the law or invalidated by changes in the law, they are considered invalidated. So Janus changed the law. The Supreme Court ruled and whether I like the ruling or not contracts have to conform to the law. That’s why we changed them.” This appears to be one of the first instances in which a union representative has indicated that membership opt-out windows are inconsistent with Janus.

What comes next?
According to Osborne, the suits filed by the Fairness Center will proceed because state law does not prohibit the inclusion of maintenance-of-membership clauses in labor contracts. “Our clients are pursuing a court ruling that, among other protections, strikes down the ‘maintenance of membership’ statute as unconstitutional,” he said. Unions are contesting these suits, which are listed below.

  • Nguyen v. A&R Local 4200 (case number: 3:19-cv-01351-WWE; filed Sept. 2, 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut)
  • Weyandt v. PSCOA (case number: 3:02-at-06000; filed June 14, 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania)
  • Kabler v. UFCW, Local 1776 (case number: 1:19-cv-00395-UN1; filed March 6, 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania)
  • James v. SEIU, Local 668 (case number: 2:19-cv-00053-CB; filed Jan. 17, 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania)
  • Molina v. SEIU, Local 668 (case number: 1:19-cv-00019-YK; filed Jan. 7, 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania)

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 102 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking.

Union Station map October 11, 2019.png

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Union Station status chart October 11, 2019.png

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

Union Station partisan chart October 11, 2019.png

Recent legislative actions

No legislative actions have occurred since our last issue.