Pennsylvania liquor store clerk sues former union over dues

(By Christen Smith – The Center Square) – A Pennsylvania liquor store clerk sued his former union in federal court this week for nearly two years of dues he alleges were collected from his paycheck unconstitutionally. 

Allen Knabb resigned from United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1776 Keystone State (UFCW) in January 2020, but says the organization continued deducting membership dues from his pay. This, despite his inability to attend meetings, vote or rely on the union for any kind of support.

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When he pressed the issue, the UFCW pointed to a clause in a membership agreement Knabb signed in 2013 that indicated he could only stop the paycheck deductions during a 15-day window between Dec. 9 and Dec. 24 each year.

When asked why Knabb didn’t resubmit his request during the designated time frame last year, Danielle Acker Susanj vice president and senior litigation counsel for the Fairness Center – a legal advocacy group representing Knabb – said insisting on a notice in this window is “arbitrary.”

“But they’ve already received notice twice over the last year and a half, yet keep taking money from his paychecks,” she said. “It’s clear that this is not about notice, it’s about forcing him to pay more to the union.”

Acker Susanj said UFCW takes roughly $30 from each of Knabb’s paychecks – no matter how many hours he works. She clarified that he’s semiretired and only works part time.

“Like all public employees, Mr. Knabb has the constitutional right not to financially support a union,” said Nathan McGrath, president of the Fairness Center. “But it appears union officials are more concerned with taking our client’s money than they are with respecting his constitutional rights.”

The Fairness Center routinely pursues cases against public sector unions that are alleged to have violated workers’ rights through collective bargaining agreement clauses that make it challenging to halt paycheck-deducted membership dues.

The organization has represented at least 10 other public workers in similar cases and received reimbursement, plus interest, for the illegal practice.

The cases follow a 2018 Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which overturned decades of precedent that required nonmembers to pay unions an “agency fee” or “fair share fee” for the costs of collective bargaining. 

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