Understand Your First Amendment Rights
9 Labor Rights for Pennsylvania Government Workers
UPDATE: Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME on June 27, 2018, agency fee payers in government no longer have pay fair share fees to their workplace union. Your workplace should have already halted such payments. If not, or if you’re unsure if that update has been made, please contact your payroll/human resources department to ensure fee payments to unions stop immediately. If you need assistance on this, get in touch with Americans for Fair Treatment at 833-969-FAIR (3247) or Info@AmericansForFairTreatment.org.
The Public Employee Relations Act of 1970 is the main law that gave government workers such as state, municipal, and school employees the right to organize.
In addition, public school teachers and other workers are governed by collective bargaining provisions in the Public School Code, and Act 84 of 1988, which requires non-union workers to pay agency fees to the union that represents their school district or other education workplace (this law became Section 2215 of the state’s Administrative Code). Other types of municipal workers, such as firefighters, police, and county or borough office staff, were also required to pay agency fees through Act 15 of 1993 if they chose not to join their workplace union.
As in many states, Pennsylvania policemen and firefighters have their own collective bargaining law, which is Act 111 of 1968.
Despite a plethora of laws governing how public sector workers interact with labor unions, there are many rights common to all types of employees. Below are nine of the most important ones.
1. You have the right to join a union.
A full union member has the ability to vote for officers and ratify a collective bargaining agreement. Full union membership may also include additional benefits, such as discounts and trainings, which are not available to non-members. However, members’ union dues may also be spent on political and ideological issues. In fact, government unions fund dozens of political advocacy organizations that may not align with independent or conservative workers’ political views. For example, according to its 2016 and 2017 annual financial reports to the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Education Association frequently gives to:
- Media Matters for America, which received a total of $400,000 in 2016 and 2017.
- The Center for Popular Democracy’s two 501(c) 4 groups, which received $991,350 in 2015-2017. One of CPD Action’s campaigns is shaming “Corporate Backers of Hate” that so much as sit on President Trump’s Business Council.
- The For Our Future Action Fund, a national progressive community organization group, that received $5.3 million in 2016-17.
- LGBTQ issues group The Human Rights Campaign, which received $50,000 in 2016.
- Pro-abortion group Emily’s List, which received $10,000 in 2017.
2. You have the right NOT to join a union.
Section 401 of the Public Employee Relations Act outlines this right:
“It shall be lawful for public employes to organize, form, join or assist in employe organizations or to engage in lawful concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection or to bargain collectively through representatives of their own free choice and such employes shall also have the right to refrain from any or all such activities, except as may be required pursuant to a maintenance of membership provision in a collective bargaining agreement.” (Emphasis added). A “Maintenance of Membership” clause is a contract provision, authorized by the PERA, that designates a limited window when a union member may resign from his or her union. It is often a two-week period at the end of a multi-year contract.
3. You have the right to resign from a union.
State law generally allows employees to resign from their union only 15 days before the expiration of their collective bargaining agreement or any time after the agreement expires. As explained above, this standard is called “Maintenance of Membership” (MOM), because once a government employee joins the union, he or she must remain a member for almost the entire length of the current labor contract.
Your local collective bargaining agreement may vary from state law by including either fewer or additional restrictions on how and when you can resign membership. To know when you can resign, always check your contract first. If you would like help with resigning outside of your MOM window, which several workers have done, please contact Americans for Fair Treatment at 833-969-FAIR (3247) or Info@AmericansForFairTreatment.org.
4. You have the right to understand your fair share fee.
If you choose not to join a union you may need to pay a nonmember fair share fee or agency fee to compensate the union for bargaining on your behalf. Fair share fees may not be spent on political purposes, according to the 1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. The union must establish procedures to safeguard this right, including providing and explaining audited financial information on how it calculated the agency fee, giving ample opportunity to challenge the fee, and placing the fees in escrow when challenged. This annual “Hudson” notice and procedure came out of the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court Case Teachers v. Hudson.
5. You have the right to challenge your fair share fee amount.
If you think your union miscalculated your fair share fee, you may submit a challenge in writing to the union within 40 days of receiving a Hudson notice or “Notice to Fair Share Fee Payers.” Any challenge will be resolved by an “impartial arbitrator” who is compensated by the union and usually selected by the American Arbitration Association. By law, 50 percent of the fee must be placed in escrow, so the union cannot legally use your money while a decision is pending on the proper agency fee amount.
Other types of government worker will find a similar process provided in Act 15 of 1993. For more information on how to submit a challenge, contact Americans for Fair Treatment at 833-969-FAIR (3247) or Info@AmericansForFairTreatment.org.
6. You may object to a fair share fee based on religious grounds.
You have the right to ask the union to redirect your fair share fee to a mutually agreed-on, non-religious charity of your choice. Religious objectors do not have to belong to a specific church to claim this right.
7. You have the right to change or challenge your union, but it is limited.
To remove or “decertify” the union so it is no longer your workplace exclusive bargaining representative, you may file a petition provided you have the support of at least 30 percent of employees.
File your petition during the required window: At earliest, 90 days before the collective bargaining agreement expires, and no later than 60 days before it expires. You may also file a petition after the labor contract expires until your union and workplace sign a new bargaining agreement. Once a petition is filed, the state labor relations board will schedule a workplace election where employees can choose to decertify a union. For more on the procedures regarding installing or removing a union, see these regulations regarding government employees.
8. You have the right to work during a strike.
If you are not a union member, you have the right to work during a strike. If you are a union member, and your union’s collective bargaining agreement has expired, then you may have the right to resign from the union before a strike begins and work during such a strike without incurring union penalties. If you have questions on the issue, please contact Americans for Fair Treatment.
9. The law protects you against union intimidation and threats.
Such actions may constitute unfair labor practices which can and should be reported to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (717-787-1091). See Section 1201 (b) of Pennsylvania’s PERA for more information.