Lawsuit Seeks to Protect Workers’ Janus Rights

Member Group : PA Watchdog

Last fall, Pennsylvania lawmakers were warned that if they didn’t take action to make state law align with the principles of the Supreme Court’s landmark Janus v. AFSCME decision, then the courts would be left to handle that realignment – and the resulting legal challenges and counter-challenges could take years to come to a resolution.

Now, it appears that that prediction may already be coming true. A new lawsuit claims that three Pennsylvania state workers were prevented from quitting a public sector union in defiance of the Janus ruling, causing them to continue to have union dues taken from their paychecks.

The legal challenge was filed by The Fairness Center, a nonprofit organization that provides legal services for individuals who believe they have been negatively affected by union practices. The three workers are all employees in Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry, and the lawsuit seeks class action status to cover any other workers who may have experienced similar situations.

According to The Fairness Center’s lawsuit, Megan James, William Lester and Angela Pease each sent letters in July 2018 to the Service Employees International Union Local 668 stating their intention to withdraw from the union.

After going months without a response, the three were informed in October 2018 that they were not allowed to resign from the union under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement in place between the state and the SEIU. That agreement dictates that workers can only leave the union during the 15 days preceding the expiration of the agreement itself, which would be June 16, 2019.

As a result, all three continue to have union dues deducted from their pay.

“Plaintiffs object to the compelled association and speech inherent with and financial subsidization of any activities of Local 668 and its affiliates for any purpose,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and seeks to have the court compel the return of the deducted wages, plus attorney fees and damages.

It was in October that a hearing of the Pennsylvania Senate Majority Policy Committee was warned that if the Legislature didn’t adjust state law to enshrine the new protections imposed by Janus, the state could be looking at a long series of litigation.

Lawmakers were unable in 2018 to enact bills by Eichelberger and state Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, that would’ve corrected any deviations from Janus, opening the door to lawsuits like the one from The Fairness Center.

Nathan McGrath, vice president and director of litigation for The Fairness Center, told that the SEIU’s refusal to allow his clients to quit the union is illegal.

“Our clients believe that they have a constitutional right to resign from a union at any time,” McGrath said. “We’d argue, because of that, any impediment to their ability to resign their union membership is unconstitutional.”

Dave Lemery is the Pennsylvania & New Hampshire News Editor for He welcomes your comments. Contact Dave at [email protected].