FILE - PA Tom Wolf SEIU 6-6-2014

Then-gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf meets with members the Service Employees International Union after he receives their endorsement Friday, June 6, 2014, in Philadelphia.

A legal organization that represents public sector union workers fighting to leave or recover funds from their unions is crediting those lawsuits with a change in union behavior in Pennsylvania.

According to the Fairness Center, a Harrisburg-based firm that represents a number of plaintiffs in ongoing legal disputes, several leading public-sector unions have stopped fighting for “maintenance of membership” provisions in union contracts.

The provisions refer to unions’ practice of only allowing members to give up their membership during a 15-day window when a labor contract is set to expire. Over the years, a number of public sector union members have protested that they found it difficult or impossible to leave even when they tried to take advantage of that small window to end their membership.

The firm analyzed labor contracts and legal documents relating to three public sector unions to come to the determination that the provisions were no longer being included. The unions were:

• Service Employees International Union, Local 668

• United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1776

• Pennsylvania State Correctional Officers Association

According to the Fairness Center, the combined membership of the unions currently sits at 22,500 public employees in Pennsylvania.

The firm has argued that in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Janus v. AFSCME ruling, “maintenance of membership” provisions are no longer enforceable.

“Maintenance of membership restrictions clearly violate our clients’ constitutional rights, and union officials should have dropped those restrictions a long time ago,” David Osborne, president and general counsel for the Fairness Center, said in a statement. “It’s a big step in the right direction.”

Among the clients currently being represented by the firm is John Kabler, a state-run liquor store clerk who was told that he had to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union as a condition of employment.

A letter from the union to Kabler indicated that if he allowed his union membership to lapse, his job would be terminated.

“Our clients had to sue to enforce their rights and the rights of those who are similarly situated, and only then did their union officials start to doubt their constitutional authority to keep members from resigning,” Osborne said in his statement this week. “While we remain concerned that union officials will not take seriously their promises to the courts, union officials’ promises to end ‘maintenance of membership’ in some of the largest government union contracts is an enormous step toward victory for our clients as litigation continues.”

Regional Editor

Dave Lemery is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience. He was the editor of Suburban Life Media when its flagship newspaper was named best weekly in Illinois, and he has worked at papers in South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York.