Union Drops Members for Giving Up Forced Dues

AFSCME angered workers agreed to opt-in membership

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One of the largest government unions in the U.S. dropped its affiliation with some Connecticut members who negotiated a contract that allows them to choose if they want to pay union dues. 

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Connecticut chapter severed ties with a group of Vernon officials over its latest contract. Marty Sitler, president of the now-independent Directors Independent Unit, said his group negotiated a fair contract for its eight members. He said AFSCME officials were indifferent to the unit in the past, but were angered to discover the latest contract eliminated automatic dues deductions and seniority provisions for layoffs

"We don't care," Sitler told the Washington Free Beacon.  "We negotiated without them [AFSCME]— they did nothing for us. All they had to do was sign."

The Vernon union ended the automatic enrollment of new workers in response to the Supreme Court's 2018 Janus v. AFSCME ruling, which stated that government agencies could no longer force non-members to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The ruling did not, however, affect collective bargaining agreements that force workers to opt-out of union membership. By ending this automatic deduction, the eight Vernon employees are now able to choose whether or not to opt into paying union fees. 

Sitler says his unit was able to negotiate the majority of the new contract during an off-the-record meeting with the city that took only a few hours. He said their main goal was to simplify the old contract, which he called "45 pages of contradictory statements." AFSCME officials told Sitler they had concerns with the agreed contract, but he said there was no reason for his unit to heed to their demands. 

"They didn't want to represent the intentions of our community," he said. "I feel there is no loss … We have a great relationship with our town. Why would we want to harm that for one clause?"

AFSCME did not return request for comment.

Sitler is a longtime union supporter. Before working in Vernon, Sitler organized a union with AFSCME in Wethersfield and served on the negotiation team for nearly 30 years.  

AFSCME told Sitler that the automatic deduction of union dues was not it's only concern with his union’s new contract, which included a $500 signing bonus. They cited other objections that included super seniority and layoff protection. Sitler called these additional concerns a cover for the state union's opposition to the voluntary enrollment system. 

"They were smoke and mirrors," he said. "If we agreed to keep the automatic deduction, they would have signed."

Sitler said he asked AFSCME to meet with his union to discuss their concerns. He added that the meeting was anything but a discussion and that his members felt AFSCME did not care about their position. Instead, he says AFSCME focused on ensuring that the automatic deduction of union dues would remain. 

"They came in and said they wanted to keep it or else," he said. "They did not represent themselves well at all. There was no discussion—they talked at us. My members wanted nothing to do with them after the meeting."

Sitler said he sees automatic deduction as a potentially reasonable practice, but that he listened and acted on the concerns of his members. Still, he said that if AFSCME continues its relentless pursuit of union fees, the union will only lose the support of more workers. 

"They feel they are entitled to their dues," he said. "When [deduction of union dues] becomes a legal issue, people will back out."

Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which successfully argued the Janus case, said AFSCME's decision to disassociate with the local Vernon union is another example of how they value their due payments above the interests of American labor workers. 

"The greed of Big Labor is on full display when one union local finally pushes for a contract that appears to fully comply with the Janus' requirement that workers opt in to any union dues payments and AFSCME higher-ups response is to attack the local union officials for daring to attempt to protect their members' First Amendment rights," he told the Free Beacon. "Even after losing at the Supreme Court, AFSCME bosses have continued a nationwide campaign to trap the very workers they claim to represent in dues payments in violation of their First Amendment rights. In most instances all but requiring rank-and-file workers to file a federal lawsuit just to exercise their First Amendment rights to stop union dues payments."

Sitler said that the AFSCME needs to adapt to the post-Janus era if it wants to maintain influence in labor negotiations nationwide. He cited his union’s recent negotiations without AFSCME as an example of the leadership clinging to an outdated system. 

"The laws changed, so my employer's [position] changed," he said. "[AFSCME] wanted nothing to do with being progressive."