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Pa corrections officers file federal lawsuit; Claim union dues unlawfully deducted

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Five Pennsylvania corrections officers have filed suit against their union, arguing that they should be able to withdraw as members and no longer have to pay dues.

Representatives with The Fairness Center and National Right to Work Foundation announced the lawsuit, which was filed Friday in the Federal Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit names the officers as plaintiffs: Mark Mills, Chris Taylor, Brandon Westover, William Weyandt and Cory Yedlosky. The case describes the five officers as acting “on behalf of themselves and a class of similarly situated employees.”

Defendants named in the lawsuit include the union itself, the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, as well as its affiliates. Gov. Tom Wolf also is named in the lawsuit, as is Michael Newsome, secretary of the Pennsylvania Office of Administration, and Brian Lyman, chief accounting officer with the state.

The lawsuit says the PSCOA and its affiliates have been deducting full union membership dues from the five corrections officers, despite their requests to resign from the union.

“Public employees are frustrated with narrow escape window policies that trap them in unions, often for many years beyond when the employees want to leave their union,” Nathan McGrath, vice president and director of litigation with the Fairness Center, said in a statement.

The latest case taken up by the Fairness Center and National Right to Work Foundation places continued scrutiny on Pennsylvania’s so-called maintenance of membership provision, which gives workers a 15-day window to opt out at the end of a collective bargaining agreement.

According to the lawsuit, the PSCOA has rejected the five officers’ union membership resignations, citing the multiyear collective bargaining agreement that remains in place.

In the statement, McGrath said the Fairness Center is using the case as an opportunity to challenge maintenance of membership, which the group has described as an “unresolved issue” in its news release.

“No one’s constitutional rights should be limited to 15 days every three years, as it is in this case,” McGrath said.

The PSCOA has not commented publicly on the case. The union is entering the third and final year of its current contract, which sunsets in June 2020.

The five officers work at Huntingdon Correctional Institution in Huntingdon County. Collectively, they are requesting U.S. Middle District Judge John Jones III expand their case into a class action suit against the PSCOA.

The collection of union dues has been an issue that has gone under the microscope with increased frequency in the past year in Pennsylvania and elsewhere after the U.S. Supreme Court gave its landmark ruling on Janus v. AFSCME almost a year ago, asserting public union members can opt out from having dues deducting from paychecks.

While the blanket ruling was made, finer points, such as Pennsylvania’s maintenance of membership, continue working their way through the courts.

Groups such as the Fairness Center have been turning up the heat on the debate surrounding union membership, but other organizations, such as social welfare group Pennsylvania Spotlight, have also weighed in on the issue.

In a statement given in the aftermath of last year’s Janus v. AFSCME decision, Eric Rosso, executive director of Pennsylvania Spotlight, pointed to continued support of labor unions, as evidenced by what he described as “teacher uprisings” and “new sectors of the economy organizing.”

“As long as there is collective struggle for dignity at work, the labor movement will grow and thrive, despite setbacks dealt from a rigged political decision by the Supreme Court,” Rosso said in the statement.

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Gloucestercitynews.net | June 19, 2019