What happens now? FAQs on the impact of Janus v. AFSCME

Q.  I’m an agency fee payer—how do I get my school district or other government workplace to stop deducting fees from my paycheck?

A. Administrative units are already giving out instructions to halt such payroll deductions. For example, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association has issued several alerts to this effect, including this one from June 27, 2018, which notes:

‘all collection of the fees from non-members of unions must cease immediately….after taking the necessary steps to suspend payroll collections of the fees, school employers should immediately initiate communication with the fee-payers and affected unions to inform them of the employer’s actions and discuss further steps regarding fees collected but not yet turned over to the unions, and the refund of any “front-loaded” fees already collected but attributable to future pay periods.’

If you have concerns about unions continuing to charge agency fees, please contact your human resources/payroll department and ask that your administrative personnel stop all such deductions immediately.

Q.  I am a current union member but would like to resign my membership and leave my union. What do I need to do?

A. Americans for Fair Treatment has a fillable form that allows for you to select your Pennsylvania union from a drop-down menu. Once the form is filled out, the page will generate a resignation letter for you to mail to your union.  You should be able to submit your resignation immediately.

Q.  If I resign from my union, will I lose my benefits?

A. No. Unions, by law, represent every worker in a bargaining unit. That means they are the only ones authorized to negotiate pay and benefits. Therefore, whatever compensation is in your contract is yours whether you are a union member or not.

Q. What if my union denies my resignation and says that I failed to leave during the window designated in my collective bargaining agreement or membership form?

A. This may happen because Pennsylvania state law authorizes such “maintenance of membership” (MOM) windows, which prescribe a certain period wherein you may resign from your union. It is usually a two-week period at the end of your multi-year contract. However, if you encounter a refusal, do not give up. Please contact Americans for Fair Treatment at 833-969-FAIR (3247) or info@AmericansForFairTreatment.org. We can assist with getting your resignation accepted outside the MOM window.

 Q. I am a teacher who would like to leave my union, but I am worried about not having liability insurance coverage in case I am sued over a workplace incident. What should I do?

A. Liability protection for teachers begins with state law. Pennsylvania’s Political Subdivision Tort Claims Actprotects school districts and teachers against damages on account of any injury to a person or property. However, there are exceptions, such as injury caused by dilapidated school buildings and damages caused by a school-owned vehicle, such as a bus or van. In these cases, the law requires districts to defend and protect teachers acting within their job description.

School districts purchase General Liability coverage to protect teachers for actions performed in their scope of duties. For example, the roughly 40 Pennsylvania school districts insured by Willis, a major insurance provider for schools, offer coverage for bodily injury including corporal punishment, property damage, libel, slander, invasion of privacy, and sexual abuse, according to Willis Executive Vice President Reid Sandner.

According to education law expert Michael Levin, school district General Liability policies are fairly standardized, and nearly all districts carry Errors & Omission policies, which vary. Errors & Omissions coverage provides for wrongful acts such as neglect, misleading statements or omission, and civil rights claims such as discrimination, employment-related claims, and failure to educate.

Most district plans also cover legal fees associated with legal claims against teachers. Check with your local district for specific coverage information.

NEA coverageprovides $1 million in coverage per occurrence, per member. It costs the union $10.7 million a year, or just $3.63 per eligible member. Teachers should not worry about losing it because of the many protections already afforded to teachers by the school district and state, according to the Chair of Fox Rothschild LLP’s Education Law Group, Jeffrey T. Sultanik. The only extra protection afforded to teachers through the NEA is reimbursement for attorney and defense costs up to $35,000 in a criminal proceeding IF the teacher is exonerated of all charges. Even then, a district may defend the teacher since the district may be liable for costs if the teacher is found guilty.

Generally speaking, only teachers who intend to commit a crime or carry out intentional wrongdoing should seek additional union liability insurance. Even so, the liability insurance provided under alternative, non-union associations such as the Association of American Educators and the Keystone Teachers Association offer double the coverage: $2 million per member, per occurrence for $16.50-$33 per month compared to at least $59 per month in PSEA-NEAunion dues. 

Department and office-wide liability insurance policies are also available for police, firefighters, and other government employees. Check with your employer for the terms of coverage.

Q. If I’m not a union member, and I encounter professional threats, unfair treatment or intimidation from my school administration or other employer, what can I do?

Despite Janus v. AFSCME, unions are still required by law to represent all workers—members and non-members—in a collective bargaining unit. In the case of a grievance, your union must still provide representation.However, this requirement to represent non-members may soon, and rightly, change if they no longer pay fees. In that case, non-union professional liability insurance and legal aid are available through alternative professional associations such as the Association of American Educatorsand the Keystone Teachers Association. Your homeowner’s insurance policy may also contain or offer professional liability coverage.

Q. Because of the Janus ruling, my union has asked me to sign a re-commitment card. What should I do?

A. Unions may no longer charge non-members agency fees following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCMEon June 27, 2018. As such, unions are now trying to shore up their membership rolls. They are asking current union members to sign re-commitment cardsthat will function as a membership contract between the worker and union, locking in a member for the stated duration if signed. If you think you might want to resign your union membership in the near future, or simply want the freedom to resign when you like, do NOT sign this card. Refusing to sign gives you the option to leave the union when you wish.