‘The status quo stays in place’: State’s attempt to change union dues collection is stalled in court

Anchorage judge grants injunction in favor of unions

An Anchorage judge granted a preliminary injunction against the state Tuesday in a case over Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Sept. 26 Administrative Order seeking to change the way union dues are collected.

Judge Gregory Miller issued the injunction in favor of the Alaska State Employees Association, which was sued by the state shortly after the order was announced. When the state informed ASEA it would no longer automatically deduct dues from members’ paychecks, the union threatened legal action but the state filed suit first on Sept. 16.

The Administrative Order followed an opinion written by Attorney General Kevin Clarkson concerning Alaska’s compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31.

The Janus decision said non-union public employees no longer have to pay dues or agency fees to the unions that represent them. Clarkson’s August opinion said the state’s existing method of having those employees opt-out of union dues was a violation of free speech, and that the state would be creating an opt-in system for public employees.

The opinion went a step further and said the opt-in process would apply to active union members as well as non-union public sector employees. On Oct. 4, Judge Miller granted ASEA a temporary restraining order (TRO) saying Clarkson’s opinion had misinterpreted the Janus decision.

Miller wrote that other states or counties had examined whether Janus was applicable to unions and their members and each case had found that it was not.

“Every one of those decisions expressly rejected the idea that Janus goes farther than addressing agency fee arrangements,” Miller wrote.

On Oct. 7, the state filed its opposition to the injunction, according to Miller’s injunction, but did not file any new briefings on the matter.

“Instead (the state) just attached and relied upon a copy of its Oct 1 TRO briefing,” the injunction said. “Given the State’s lack of any new arguments, today this court issued a short order that granted the preliminary for the same reasons this court granted the TRO.”

In an email to the Empire, State Ethics Attorney Maria Bahr said the Department of Law is still in the process of reviewing the order.

“It was an overwhelming victory for us,” said ASEA Executive Director Jake Metcalfe in a phone interview with the Empire Tuesday. “The status quo stays in place, and the state has to prove the allegations that they made in the lawsuit.”

Metcalfe said the state made a number of accusations in its lawsuit with no basis, and the injunction will allow for an orderly process made with a complete record before the court.

“Alaskans are concerned because of the economy and they want to work good-paying jobs, they want state services our employees provide,” Metcalfe said.

In the announcement of the Administrative Order, Clarkson said in a press conference the Supreme Court’s decision called for “clear and compelling evidence” to show that employees wanted union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks.

The state’s current system failed to do that Clarkson said.

“The state has to be involved in the process,” Clarkson told reporters. “The state is not allowed to presume union membership.”

The process would have to take place regularly as circumstances change and employees’ opinions of union activities might change.

The Department of Administration intended to set up a mechanism to facilitate the opt-in/opt-out program but because the matter got tied up in court, no such mechanism was created.

Metcalfe was unsure when the case would be heard in court but said there were some technical matters such as depositions and evidentiary hearings that would need to take place first.

Metcalfe has previously accused Dunleavy of attacking unions and stifling workers rights.

“He’s more interested in suing his own employees for an ideological outcome, and the decision today shows that’s frivolous,” Metcalfe said Tuesday.

Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner said the governor’s office couldn’t comment on ongoing court cases.

“This is what happens when people stick together,” Metcalfe said. “Not only members of ASEA but other public unions in Alaska. They’re not going to allow someone to come in and violate a contract that both sides agreed to.”


• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.


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