The state of Alaska escalated its fight with organized labor on Monday when it announced it was suing the Alaska State Employees Association over the automatic collection of union dues and halting the collection of dues for certain employees.
Officials representing organized labor called the latest move, which comes on the heels of the state’s announcement that it planned to take a more involved role in the agreements between state employees and the unions, an attack on workers’ rights and politically motivated by the administration’s ties to Americans for Prosperity.
“It is plainly evident that the Clarkson memo and Governor Dunleavy’s lawsuit are all part of a larger attack on workers’ rights, orchestrated by Americans for Prosperity and the Alaska Policy Forum – secretive groups funded through the Koch Brothers’ network,” said Vince Beltrami, President of the Alaska AFL-CIO, in a statement released Monday afternoon. “We will continue our fight to protect workers’ rights to ensure they have a collective voice in the workplace.”
According to the state’s announcement of the latest litigation, the decision was driven by some state employees who asked the state to stop collecting union dues from their paychecks. Typically, people in unions have a 10-day window once a year to opt out of union membership but the state cites the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME in arguing that such an agreement is illegal.
“The Supreme Court made it clear in Janus that public employees have the freedom to pay union dues or not,” said Attorney General Clarkson in a prepared statement accompanying the announcement. “Janus also requires that the State have clear and compelling evidence of a state employee’s choice to pay union dues. If the State receives a direct request to stop paying union dues, the State must honor that request or else it would be violating the employee’s First Amendment right.”
The unions countered, arguing that Janus v. AFSCME deals specifically with non-union employees being able to opt out of being in a public sector union.
“The Janus decision solely involves non-union members, plain and simple, and ASEA has worked diligently to comply with the new law. In contrast, Governor Dunleavy’s actions violates the Supreme Court decision and turns a blind eye to the contract he signed with us,” said Jake Metcalfe, executive director for the Alaska State Employees Association, in a prepared statement. “Dunleavy is interfering with his employees’ contractual rights, violating their First Amendment rights and attempting to take all power away from them. This is ‘big brother’ government at its worst. His actions are shameful.”
The state cited the same decision in August, when it announced that it would be rethinking how it would handle the relationship between employees and their unions. Details for how that decision along with the latest actions will play out in the long-term is unclear.
The state preemptively filed a lawsuit on the issue, asking the courts to uphold the immediate cancellation of dues collection as legal. It hired a Virginia-based firm, Consovoy McCarthy, that filed briefs in support of Janus v. AFSCME.
The state and the Alaska State Employees Association, which was the union targeted by the lawsuit, recently signed a labor agreement that runs through 2022. Metcalfe told the Anchorage Daily News that this issue wasn’t brought up during contract negotiations and that he plans to fight it all the way through.
“I do think he really wants to shut down public service workers who do the work of Alaska,” Metcalfe told the paper.
In an earlier interview with The Midnight Sun, Metcalfe said unions and union membership have actually been on the upswing since the decision in Janus v. AFSCME last year and said anti-labor efforts by the administration have served to galvanize union support.
“Union membership is at a 50-year high. I think the Janus decision and what Dunleavy is doing here is having the opposite effect of what they intended,” he said. They’re driving people to become members because they see what Dunleavy’s done, which is to violate the contract and people’s constitutional right to association and ability to organize. They see this is just an ideology to take power away from people, and they don’t like it. He is the best organizer we’ve had.”