Attorney General Kevin Clarkson filed a lawsuit Monday against the state’s largest public employee union, alleging state employees’ right to freedom of speech are being violated.
The suit was filed against the Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA) for refusing to stop deducting union dues from employee paychecks.
The lawsuit stems from a legal opinion issued by the Attorney General on Aug. 27, which said that the state was not in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31, in 2018.
That decision found that because public sector unions engage in political activity such as lobbying and political advocacy that all members may not agree with, forcing members to pay union dues was equivalent to forcing those members to support speech against their wishes.
In the Aug. 27 opinion, Clarkson said that the state would have to receive “clear and compelling” evidence that public employees had consented to paying union fees and waived their rights to freedom of speech. The state’s current system of employees choosing to opt-out of union dues was not in compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision.
Following that opinion, several public sector employees approached the Department of Administration asking that union dues stop being taken from their paychecks, according to the state’s lawsuit.
However, when the union was notified that DOA would stop deducting union dues from employee paychecks, ASEA “objected and threatened litigation,” according to a press release from the Department of Law.
ASEA Executive Director Jake Metcalfe previously told the Empire that the state’s system for deducting union dues had been found legally sound under former Gov. Bill Walker and his attorney general Jahna Lindenmuth.
“We think that Walker’s opinion is the legally sound opinion,” Metcalfe told the Empire in August. “If they want to do this, I guess they will, but we’re going to fight them all the way,” he said.
Speaking to the Empire by phone Monday, Metcalfe said that something like this was expected.
“We knew something was going to happen,” he said. Metcalfe said that ASEA will be filing its response quickly, which will begin the litigation process.
The administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy is “doing anything they can to make it harder for people to join unions,” Metcalfe said, calling the administration’s tactics “bullying.”
“We know the law is on our side,” he said.
The lawsuit says that DOA sent Metcalfe an email on Sept. 9 notifying him that union dues would not be deducted from the individuals’ paychecks who had contacted the state. Metcalfe responded by saying, “if you do not immediately notify me that you have ceased and desisted the action described in your email, we will notify our attorney and initiate legal action,” the lawsuit says.
Though the Aug. 27 opinion said that the state would need, “clear and compelling evidence” that employees had agreed to union deductions, Clarkson told reporters at the time that DOA had not yet determined what that meant.
A statement released by the attorney general’s office Monday said that DOA was stopping deductions from employee paychecks at the advice of the Department of Law.
“By filing this lawsuit, the State is proactively seeking clarity from the court to ensure employees’ rights are fully protected,” the statement said.
The attorney general’s office could not be reached for comment by the end of business hours Monday.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.