Connecticut public sector workers who want to resign from their union may find themselves in Hotel California — you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
That’s because AFSCME Council 4 has begun to deny members their right to resign union membership if they have signed in union card within the past two years.
The move could put one of Connecticut’s largest public sector unions at odds with the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME.
“Per the membership card you are outside of the window period to cease your membership at this time,” wrote AFSCME Director of Collective Bargaining Kevin Murphy to a union member who wished to resign.
According to the union card, which was signed in 2017, a member can only resign from the union when a contract expires between the union and the employer, or within 30 days of the member’s yearly anniversary.
Another AFSCME member was told she could not resign from the union because of her membership card which was signed in 2016.
Brian Kelsey, Senior Attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, the legal foundation which represented Mark Janus in Janus v. AFSCME, says such resignation windows are “unconstitutional” and says Liberty Justice Center is challenging these windows in court across the country.
“Government workers were given a false choice between union membership and paying union fees,” Kelsey said in an email. “Government workers can only give the affirmative consent to union membership that is required by the Janus decision when they are told they have the right not to pay anything at all to the union.”
“Government workers maintain constitutional rights throughout the year,” Kelsey said, “not just during an arbitrary window set by government unions.”
Other public sector workers say they have received the run-around from union officials when they ask for information or have been told they would have to pay larger fees to the union for collective bargaining costs.
One SEIU 1199 member reports that she asked for information on resigning and was told to call a “hot-line.” No one answered, and no one returned her calls, but dues continue to be deducted from her paycheck.
At least one teacher union informed a member who wished to resign they will be charged pro-rata fees for the cost of contract negotiations and “would receive an invoice for $2,000.”
Government workers maintain constitutional rights throughout the year, not just during an arbitrary window set by government unions.
Brian Kelsey Senior Attorney, Liberty Justice Center
However, the Supreme Court ruled public-sector unions have a duty to treat members and nonmembers equally because the union chooses to be the exclusive representative of those workers.
“As evident in non-agency-fee jurisdictions, unions are quite willing to represent nonmembers in the absence of agency fees. And their duty of fair representation is a necessary concomitant of the authority that a union seeks when it chooses to be the exclusive representative,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote.
David Osborne, President and General Counsel for The Fairness Center, a nonprofit legal foundation which represents union members who have been wronged by union officials, says imposing fees for contract negotiations is just “an agency fee by another name.”
“Under Janus, public employees have the First Amendment right to not support the unions’ political agenda and the unions’ agenda is political top to bottom,” Osborne said.
The reports Connecticut government unions denying members’ rights to leave come as union leadership claims they are seeing an increase in membership since the Supreme Court decision in June, 2018.
But some members claim those new sign-ups are actually public employees who have always paid dues but never officially signed a union card, the result of shoddy book-keeping by union officials.
The push-back by Connecticut unions appears to be a new development. During the months immediately following the Janus decision, public-sector union members in Connecticut resigned from their union with no issues.
According the Supreme Court decision, forcing a public sector worker to pay dues or fees as a condition of employment is a violation of their free speech rights.
Connecticut is not the only state where public sector unions have begun to push back against the Janus decision, forcing workers to continue paying dues even when they wish to resign.
According Steven Greenhut of the California Policy Center, AFSCME and SEIU have continued to deduct union dues from members who have tried to resign, citing the resignation window on their union cards.
The Liberty Justice Center has filed suit against such restrictions in California, and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy has also filed suit challenging the resignation windows in New Jersey.
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