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Member Spotlight: Curtis Thompson

Curtis Thompson has been a fighter his entire life. Growing up in Pennsylvania, Curtis was presented with opportunities and the support needed to overcome his struggles in a traditional classroom setting. Curtis faced adversity, and persevered, earning not one, but three degrees throughout his collegiate career. He shares that becoming an education assistant has been a source of pride and joy in his career, as he pays it forward–empowering future generations with similar opportunities to succeed.   

“Learning is fun,” Curtis shares emphatically. “At the end of the day, we are each made stronger by the differences of one another, the challenges we face, and our shared victories. The most important aspect of learning,” Curtis says with a smile and twinkle in his eye, “are the hurdles, or adversities that are overcome in the process of achieving knowledge.”

Curtis has a passion for teaching youth and is driven by principles of justice and equality. In May of 2017, however, Curtis felt a profound sense of injustice when he attempted to resign from his union.

“I love my school and my school district,” Curtis said. “They have been very good to me. Unfortunately, I was forced to accept union representation I did not want and did not need.”

Curtis had grown uneasy over the years with how the union represented him. He felt the union had gone beyond its scope and role, but not on his behalf. “They were no longer able to do, or fulfill the role, I needed them to,” Curtis said.

When Curtis went to the Labor Relations Board for remedy, he says that the union he had paid dues to turned on him. “They were against me,” Curtis says incredulously, while explaining that his resignation from the union was his last and final straw.

Little did Curtis know, his resignation from ASFMCE was only the beginning of his ordeal. Upon the disappointment of learning that his union no longer served his best interests, Curtis would also learn that ASFCME would not acknowledge his resignation nor allow him to stop paying dues.

Relying on Pennsylvania State Law, AFSCME District Council 89 officials refused Curtis’ resignation. Citing a clause within the Council 89 collective bargaining agreement called “maintenance of membership,” Curtis was told he was not allowed to stop paying dues until 2020, when AFSCME’s contract ended with his school district.

In addition, the clause stipulated a small fifteen-day “escape window,” outlining a short timeframe when members were allowed to resign.

Not wanting to pay dues for another month, let alone three more years, Curtis immediately began searching online to find help exercising his constitutional rights to free speech and association.

Curtis was able to find legal resources through Americans for Fair Treatment.

On March 16, 2019, Curtis sued ASFCME District Council 89, claiming that unions should not be able to force public employees to be union members against their will. Curtis was determined that he should no longer be legally required to associate with a group, while also being forced to support it financially.

“I want to be part of the solution to problems in the education system. The union simply continues to be part of the problem,” Curtis said.

In July of 2019, the case was settled, and Curtis was able to establish that his constitutional rights could not be limited to one 15-day resignation window, every four or more years.

“I am grateful for the resources and the opportunities that Americans for Fair Treatment provides to educators. Nobody should have to feel silenced or bullied, and the AFFT team is there to walk beside you every step of the way.”

Americans for Fair Treatment

Americans for Fair Treatment is a free, membership, non-profit organization designed to help public sector workers exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of coercion from unions.