By Nate Bohlander
Dr. Mary Ann Dailey grew up in a union household in southwestern Pennsylvania. Her late father was a staunch union member, and many of her relatives proudly joined trade unions because they believed that these organizations had workers' best interests in mind. That's why Dailey, who teaches nursing at Slippery Rock University, joined a college faculty union nine years ago.
But after falling victim to a long-running dues scam, she filed an unfair labor practice charge to expose the scam and keep her union, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), from cheating more of its members out of their hard-earned money.
What's the scam? Each year since at least 1997, APSCUF holds a fake dues rebate campaign they call "March Madness." Dailey calls it "frustrating and burdensome." Pennsylvania labor law says it's illegal.
Here's how the scam works: Near the end of each academic year, APSCUF informs their members that it miraculously found an extra $25 per person in dues that it doesn't need. The union then portrays itself as an honest broker and offers the money back as a "rebate."
The rebate form gives members three options for their $25: 1. Let the union keep it; 2. Donate it to APSCUF's political action committee; or 3. Have it sent back to them. Presenting this "found" money with these options and urging members to donate to APSCUF's PAC has proven extraordinarily effective — the union raises tens of thousands of dollars earmarked for politics annually through the campaign.
So how has APSCUF managed to find the same surplus every year for the last 17 years? Easy — it simply overcharges every single member at the beginning of each year. With over 5,300 members, that comes to roughly $130,000 deceptively confiscated from hardworking professors and faculty members.
Dailey resents the sheer audacity of the union reaching into her pocket, then offering her own money back to her. "They shouldn't have taken extra money from me in the first place," she says. "I think it's unfair."
It's essentially a forced, interest-free loan. That's bad enough, but it gets worse.
While the campaign's goal is to maximize PAC contributions, it also allows the union to expand its own treasury. If members don't check the right boxes and return the form within the time period APSCUF dictates, the union simply keeps their money. That's illegal, and it's precisely what happened to Dailey.
In March 2014, Dailey was helping her husband recover from surgery. When she found out about the campaign, she contacted APSCUF about her overcharged dues, but the union said she had missed the deadline.
Dailey explains, "I filled out the paperwork and they said: 'You missed it. It's too late. You can't get your money back.'"
A similar situation happened this year, when Mary received notice of the campaign only after the deadline elapsed. The union kept her money yet again.
For Dailey, it was the last straw. "It is deceitful for the union to overcharge me initially, then only give back my money if I jump through hoops," she says.
With representation from the Fairness Center, a public interest law firm dedicated to representing public employees who have been wronged by their union leadership, Dailey filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board to expose and end APSCUF's dues rebate campaign.
Pennsylvania's Public Employe Relations Act prohibits public-sector unions from coercing employees into assisting the union. By overcharging dues and keeping the money if members don't jump through the right hoops, APSCUF is violating Pennsylvania law.
Dailey wants everyone victimized by this scheme to be made whole. And she wants her union to stop manipulating its members.
APSCUF's members should also know what their union is doing with the money this deceptive campaign raises: Their PAC's largest beneficiary for 2014-15 was Gov. Tom Wolf at more than $52,000.
Dailey has been a nurse for 46 years, a professor for 27 years, and an APSCUF member for almost a decade. Surely her union's leadership, which is supposed to be looking out for workers' best interests — not their own — owes Dailey and her fellow members more than an annual political fundraising scam.
Attorney Nate Bohlander is assistant general counsel for the Fairness Center (FairnessCenter.org), a non-profit, public interest law firm with offices in Harrisburg and King of Prussia.