For­mer so­cial worker sues Le­high County, union

He wants dues that he says were col­lected against his wishes.

The Morning Call (Sunday) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Tom Short­ell

A for­mer Le­high County so­cial worker filed a fed­eral law­suit against the county and his for­mer union Mon­day, claim­ing they vi­o­lated his rights by con­tin­u­ing to col­lect union dues against his in­struc­tions.

Fran­cisco Molina, who worked in the county’s Of­fice of Chil­dren and Youth Ser­vices, claims the county owes him a month worth of dues pay­ments after he tried to quit Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union Lo­cal 668 last July.

Molina was a sup­porter of last year’s Supreme Court rul­ing in Janus v. AF­SCME, which found nonunion em­ploy­ees should not be forced to pay par­tial union dues. Molina, a for­mer shop stew­ard with the union, pub­licly crit­i­cized union lead­er­ship at county com­mis­sion­ers meet­ings last year, claim­ing union of­fi­cials ha­rassed him at work.

About three weeks after the Janus rul­ing, Molina sub­mit­ted a let­ter to Le­high County and SEIU Lo­cal 668, re­sign­ing from the union and in­struct­ing the county to stop de­duct­ing dues from his pay­check, ac­cord­ing to the suit. But SEIU did not re­spond to his re­quest, and the county con­tin­ued to dock the dues from his pay, ac­cord­ing to the suit.

Un­der the terms of the union’s four-year col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment with the county, union mem­bers were only al­lowed to re­sign from the union dur­ing a 15-day pe­riod be­fore the con­tract ex­pired. The con­tract can force mem­bers to re­main part of the union for years at a time, de­pend­ing on the length of the con­tract.

Molina is seek­ing the re­turn of a month’s worth of dues pay­ments plus in­ter­est. The suit did not pro­vide a dol­lar fig­ure for that amount.

But the case is more about the prin­ci­ple than the fi­nances, said David Os­borne, Molina’s at­tor­ney and the pres­i­dent of the Fair­ness Cen­ter, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that spe­cial­izes in cases against pub­lic sec­tor unions. Forc­ing em­ploy­ees to re­main mem­bers of a union they no longer sup­port vi­o­lates their rights un­der the First and 14th amend­ments, Os­borne ar­gued.

“To me, it’s just re­ally sim­ple. Mr. Molina was a pub­lic em­ployee. They should have the right to be a mem­ber of the union and the right to leave a union,” he said.

The Fair­ness Cen­ter has taken on sim­i­lar cases, in­clud­ing a psy­chi­atric aide’s at Wern­ersville State Hos­pi­tal in Berks County. In that case, AF­SCME Coun­cil 13 re­fused to honor the man’s res­ig­na­tion from the union last year.

SEIU’s col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment with Le­high County also al­lows the union to de­mand the county dis­charge any union mem­ber who re­fuses to pay dues, ac­cord­ing to the suit.

Molina was dis­missed from the county in Au­gust, about a month after he re­quested the county stop dock­ing his dues pay­ment. The suit does not con­test his ter­mi­na­tion.

Named as de­fen­dants in the suit are the Le­high County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, Ex­ec­u­tive Phillips Arm­strong, Di­rec­tor of Hu­man Re­sources Ju­dith John­ston, the Le­high County Of­fice of Chi­dren and Youth Ser­vices, SEIU Lo­cal 668 and Stephen Catanese, the lo­cal’s pres­i­dent.

Le­high County Di­rec­tor of Ad­min­is­tra­tion Ed Hozza de­clined to com­ment, say­ing the county had not yet been served with the suit. Lo­cal 668 did not make a spokesper­son avail­able to com­ment.

John­ston de­clined to an­swer ques­tions about how many county em­ploy­ees re­quested their union dues pay­ments stop, cit­ing the lit­i­ga­tion.

A Morn­ing Call re­port last week found few de­par­tures from teach­ers unions across the Le­high Val­ley. How­ever, Michael Tor­res, a se­nior com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer of the freemar­ket think tank Com­mon­wealth Foun­da­tion, ex­pected the num­ber of de­par­tures to grow in the fu­ture as em­ploy­ees be­come more fa­mil­iar with their rights.

tshort­[email protected] Twit­ter @TShort­ell 610-820-6168

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.