When Francisco “Cisco” Molina was growing up, boys like him had only two destinations: prison, or the graveyard.
His father left home when he was 3.
His abusive single mother raised him in a gang-infested neighborhood in Massachusetts. “Cisco”, now 51, attended school in long-sleeved shirts to hide the scars from his mother’s beatings. One is a 16-inch welt on his left arm.
Once, his mother’s boyfriend whipped him with electrical cords. “That’s nothing compared to what I’ll do to him,” his mother said, Cisco recalls of the day.
Cisco spent time in a boy’s home in Puerto Rico, and eventually, he moved to the Allentown, Pa. area in 1982. That’s where he stayed, and somehow, his life took on a stability that eluded so much of his extended family.
He married his girlfriend, with whom he recently celebrated his 31st wedding anniversary. He had two daughters, now grown, and adopted a female cousin who just turned 16. He worked as a factory employee at Kraft Foods for 10 years, before becoming the first in his family to snag a college degree.
In 2002, Cisco earned an associate degree in Human Services so he could help abused and neglected children—like he used to be.
He soon got his chance.
By 2006, Cisco was working for the Lehigh County Office of Children and Youth as a social services aide. That ended in 2018, despite the fact that he loved his work. The reason was the toxic, intimidating work environment that SEIU 668, Pennsylvania’s social services workers’ union, created for Cisco and other co-workers.
“I used to fight bullies, and SEIU is a big bully,” Cisco told Americans for Fair Treatment. “I knew what it was like to be alone with my mom, and then at work.”
In Cisco’s case, however, the problem was often that he thought and acted too independently. Those were qualities that helped him overcome his broken childhood. But in a groupthink union shop, that meant he both asked too many questions, and gave his co-workers too many answers.
That doesn’t mean Cisco simply sat back and criticized the union. As soon as he qualified, he became a full union member in good standing of SEIU 668 Chapter 13 in 2006. He also served as a shop steward multiple times, most recently from 2016 through 2017, and was part of the team that negotiated the latest contract.
A 2017 picture of the bulletin board Cisco set up when he was a shop steward. Fellow union leaders complained of the information he posted.
However, he did not always agree with the decisions or style of fellow union local leaders, and was not afraid to share information with members that he thought was in their interest. In 2017, for example, he set up a bulletin board sharing a steward’s obligations to represent SEIU members from the union’s own handbook, a move that led to irritated email exchanges with fellow leaders.
Matters came to a head in 2018 for Cisco largely because of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which on June 27, struck down mandatory fees for government workers who were not union members. The ruling also meant that if union members resigned in “agency shop” workplaces, their unions could no longer charge them fees as a condition of continued employment.
In January 2018, Chapter 13 sent out a letter encouraging members to sign a new membership form because of the then-upcoming Janus decision. When Cisco took a closer look at the new membership form—which would serve as a binding contract between SEIU 668 and individual members—he was horrified.
First, one had to authorize dues deduction to be a member at all, if not from one’s employer payroll, then from one’s personal bank. Also, the dues deduction was “irrevocable” from year to year, whether someone was a union member or not, unless he or she left during a specified, variable exit window.
Cisco immediately responded to the mass communication by warning his fellow members and new employees to read the small print before signing the seemingly innocuous membership card. In fact, coaxing existing members to sign new, binding commitment cards has been a widespread public sector union tactic to shore up membership rolls both ahead of and after the Janus decision.
In fact, Cisco’s repeated, one-person information campaigning got him lumped in with the so-called “ANTI-union groups” fellow union leaders fingered in their January 2018 letter. When the Janus ruling came down in June, he sent another e-mail missive to co-workers explaining the implications of the decision, and got his office to halt the extraction of fair share fees immediately.
Feeling harassed by his own union, Cisco also thought the court ruling finally gave someone like him an out.
He resigned his union membership.
SEIU rejected it.
By that point, Cisco was also a reliable resource for colleagues on union issues, with several messaging him with how-to questions. One colleague who had resigned following the correct procedure—lodging a written resignation at union headquarters—related how a union leader had come to his desk.
The union head menacingly said the worker could “run the risk of losing benefits” if the employee left SEIU. (That’s wrong: all employees in a bargaining unit receive the same pay and benefits regardless of union membership status). Cisco encouraged the worker to hang in there and wait for the process to work.
In the meantime, things were going deeply south for Cisco.
On June 28, the day after the Supreme Court ruling, a shop steward accused Cisco of lying about the Janus rights information he was sharing, which turned into a heated argument in front of his co-workers. And creepily, a week earlier, the same union co-worker found his 21-year-old daughter, who also works in government, at a playground one afternoon and struck up a conversation with her.
The union head did not reveal that she worked with Cisco. Instead, Cisco’s daughter simply figured it out and later told her father. Cisco believes the whole point of the meeting was so the union could send this message: “We know how to find your daughter, and we know how to threaten her employment.”
In short, the meeting with Cisco’s daughter was an intimidation tactic.
Furious about the incident with his daughter and the workplace argument with his union head, Cisco complained publicly at a Lehigh County Commissioners meeting Jun. 28. “I don’t want to be in an environment, and I won’t tolerate an environment where I’m being harassed because I don’t share someone else’s values,” he said.
By August 14, however, it was too late.
Cisco was fired from Children and Youth for alleged ethics violations. However, his firing did not follow proper procedure: his employer did not detail the exact circumstances of Cisco’s supposed violations, nor did they conduct any fact-finding.
Cisco believes and the situation points to union bullying as the cause of his firing: he had stood up to the union one too many times.
It’s not in his nature to stay down, though.
By October, he had found a new job. He also recently celebrated the marriage of his middle daughter—the one the union leader tailed to the playground.
Still, Cisco’s termination means he cannot work in social services in Pennsylvania any more. While he is legally challenging the firing—ironically, through the very arbitration process the union negotiated—he can’t shake a sense of loss over what SEIU has cost him.
He thinks about the hurting kids he could still help.
“They took it away—all of it,” he said. “I want to take away their ability to force people to stay in the union. Workers should be free to serve their community without being afraid of the union’s bullying tactics.
“I’m not getting a cent from this. All the risk is on me.”
With the help of the public law firm the Fairness Center, Cisco is suing SEIU 668 for forcing him to remain a member of the union until the end of the current collective bargaining agreement despite his desire to leave. You can follow his case here.