Judge Gerald Austin McHugh
PHILADELPHIA – A federal judge on the bench of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled in favor of Service Employees International Union 668 in a lawsuit filed by a former union member who sued for damages over allegations that she had been forced to join the union.
Judge Gerald Austin McHugh wrote in a 16-page ruling filed Nov. 12 that the arguments made by plaintiff Shalea Oliver, who is an income caseworker with the Philadelphia County Assistance Office, “suffers from multiple defects.” McHugh granted the union's motion for summary judgment and motion to dismiss and denied Oliver's motion for summary judgment.
McHugh explained that Oliver had not been forced to join the union when hired by the county and she was not entitled to damages because she had been refunded dues owed to her after she resigned from the union. The judge ruled that Oliver also was not entitled to declaratory relief.
The judge noted that when Oliver was hired, she was given the choice either to join the union and pay union dues, or, Oliver could “decline membership and contribute a reduced amount in the form of agency fees.” McHugh said that it was “made clear that she was not obligated to join the union,” citing Pennsylvania state law.
“It is difficult to comprehend how plaintiff can complain that she was compelled to join the union in violation of her First Amendment right of free association,” the judge wrote.
McHugh wrote that Oliver's choice to join the union was “contractual in nature” and “voluntary.”
Oliver had said that the union was a “state actor” in her argument that she had been forced to join the union. However, McHugh wrote that the union was not considered a state actor. This was because it was “not performing a function delegated by the state, and is not entwined with government policies or management," the ruling states.
Further, McHugh said that the union had a right to collect dues from its enrolled members. He wrote that Oliver had been refunded monies that had been deducted from her paycheck after she had resigned from the Local 668. Also, the judge ruled that Oliver was not entitled to declaratory relief because of “lack of standing and mootness” since Oliver is no longer a member of the union.