Understand Your First Amendment Rights
6 Labor Rights for Pennsylvania Government Workers
This article is part of Free to Teach’s “Knowing Your Rights and Union Alternatives” booklet, which is available in its entirety here.
The Public Employe 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 are governed by collective bargaining provisions in the Public School Code, and Act 84 of 1988. Until June 2018, Act 84 required non-union educators to pay agency fees to the union that represents their school district or other public education workplace (this law became Section 2215 of the state’s Administrative Code). Below are six of the most important labor rights for teachers.
- 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.
Contributions to political advocacy organizations totaled at least $61 million in 2017-18, according to the NEA’s financial report, but millions more to such groups were also logged as “contributions, gifts and grants.” Below are just a few big-ticket examples of the progressive and partisan Democratic causes that NEA dues funded.
A number of ballot measures leading up to the 2018 mid-term elections, including:
- $500,000 toClean Missouri in support of a constitutional amendment which passed and will change how electoral districts are drawn and limit campaign contributions, among other issues;
- $250,000 to theMaryland Promise Committee in support of a constitutional amendment that passed and will dedicate revenue from video lotteries as supplementary education funding;
- Over $1.4 million to the failed “Invest in Education” initiative, which the Arizona Supreme Courtkicked off the ballot on Aug. 29. The measure proposed almost doubling state income tax rates on individuals earning at least $250,000 and couples earning at least $500,000 to raise revenue for public education.
- $100,000 to the National Redistricting Action Fund, an affiliate of theNational Redistricting Democratic Committee championed by former President Obama to help Democratic candidates win in several target states. The NRDC is headed by former Attorney General Eric Holder.
- $347,833 in 2018 toAmerica Votes, a progressive issues advocacy group that partners with other Big Labor groups and organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the Democratic Governors Association, and the Human Rights Campaign.
- $900,000 in 2017-18 to a group calledAmerica Works USA, which appears to be connected to the Democratic Governors Association. The organization bought Pennsylvania TV ads in 2017 touting Gov. Tom Wolf’s accomplishments. Its website contains no organizational information and its listed Washington DC address on the NEA’s financial report is the same as that of a Le Pain Quotidien café.
- $250,000 in 2018 to theCenter for American Progress Action Fund.
- $300,000 in 2018 to theCenter for Popular Democracy
- $200,000 in 2017 to the For Our Future Action Fund.
- 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.
- 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 Free to Teach at 833-969-FAIR (3247) or Info@FreetoTeach.org.
- You have the right to change or challenge your union, but it is limited.
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 Pennsylvania’s regulations regarding government employees.
- 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 Free to Teach.
6.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). Section 1201(b) of Pennsylvania’s PERA outlines illegal activities of unions such as “Restraining or coercing employes in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Article IV of this act” and “Restraining or coercing a public employer in the selection of his representative for the purposes of collective bargaining or the adjustment of grievances.”
 Public Employe Relations Act, 43 Pa. Stat. § 101 – 2301, http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/LEGIS/LI/uconsCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&yr=1970&sessInd=0&smthLwInd=0&act=0195.&CFID=341789689&CFTOKEN=68930824.
 Public School Code of 1949 – Collective Bargaining, 24 Pa. Stat. § 1101-A – 1172-A, http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/US/HTM/1949/0/0014..HTM.
 The Administrative Code of 1929 – Fair Share Fee; Payroll Deduction, 71 Pa. Stat. § 2215, http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/US/PDF/1929/0/0175..PDF
 Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, “Petition Under the Public Employe Relations Act,” https://www.dli.pa.gov/Individuals/Labor-Management-Relations/plrb/Documents/Form/pera-4.pdf.
 43 Pa. Stat. § 605.7 (ii), http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/LEGIS/LI/uconsCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&yr=1970&sessInd=0&smthLwInd=0&act=0195.&CFID=341789689&CFTOKEN=68930824.
 34 Pa. Code § 95.11 – 95.24, http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/034/chapter95/chap95toc.html (Representation and decertification proceedings).