Alaska case at Supreme Court to test public employee right to not pay union membership dues

14
1082

By OLIVIA JOHNSTON | THE CENTER SQUARE

A case pending before the Supreme Court of the United States has the potential to enhance the First Amendment rights of workers from being forced to subsidize union speech they may disagree with.

The case is Alaska v. Alaska State Employees Association and several states have already filed amicus briefs in support of workers. Among those who joined an amicus brief are Idaho, Kansas, Alabama and Texas, as well as others.

Why is a case out of Alaska drawing so much attention from other states, and how could it impact you? The case stands for a cause the Mountain States Policy Center firmly believes in – government transparency and freedom of choice as a public employee. It could have a nationwide impact for all public employees.

In 2018, SCOTUS held that public employees forced to subsidize a union, even if they “choose not to join and strongly object to the positions the union takes in collective bargaining and related activities,” is unconstitutional. Such an “arrangement violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.” This decision from Janus could be strengthened by the Alaska State Employees case should SCOTUS accept and hear it.

Alaska State Employees seeks to resolve if affirmative consent must first be required before the Alaska state government can legally withhold from public employee paychecks for union causes within the scope of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. There are currently two kinds of “fees” charged by public employee unions in Alaska: membership dues and agency fees, with agency fees being required for both union and non-union employees working in the public sector. SCOTUS addressed both of these types of fee categories in Janus, and determined it is unconstitutional to withhold union agency fees from public employees who do not agree with or have a desire to join a specific union.

The dispute at the center of the Alaska State Employees case is whether the ruling in Janus extends to membership dues as well. The Alaska Attorney General argues that it does; the Alaska State Employee Association argues that it does not.

The dispute arose as a result of Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor implementing aggressive initiatives to inform employees of their workplace rights once he took office. One of those initiatives includes requiring employee consent to union dues being withdrawn from their paychecks. Under Taylor’s guidelines, employees would have to provide “clear and compelling evidence” of consenting to union dues before they could be withheld from compensation. Paychecks could no longer support any union purposes without the employee intending their money to do so.

The state of Alaska initiative intends all Alaskan workers to be informed of each withholding line on their paychecks. Several states (including Idaho) have filed amicus briefs in Alaska State Employees in support of AG Taylor’s initiative regarding union dues. In other words, these states are also asking SCOTUS to recognize public employees’ right to consent to charges for governmental union dues.

SCOTUS’s ruling in Janus logically leads to a conclusion that public workers’ income cannot subsidize a private matter on issues of substantial public concern without voluntarily waiving their First Amendment right. To voluntarily waive a fundamental right demands individual rights have been thoroughly communicated and understood. The First Amendment protects both the freedom to speak as well as the freedom to refrain from speaking. The state of Alaska urges the Supreme Court to reaffirm Janus which equally supports employees who wish to support union causes and those who “strongly object to the positions the union takes” as the court stated in 2018.

Mountain States Policy Center firmly agrees with those asking SCOTUS to fully clarify the First Amendment rights of workers to not be forced to provide financial support to union causes or membership without direct consent first. We’ll soon know if the U.S. Supreme Court agrees.

Olivia Johnston is a contributor to Mountain States Policy Center, an independent research organization based in Idaho, Montana, Eastern Washington and Wyoming. Online at mountainstatespolicy.org. She is currently a law student at the University of Idaho College of Law.

14 COMMENTS

  1. There are some unions that do work hard for their members. Most of which is not about money, but working conditions and offering resources to members being targeted by management. A simple solution would be if you don’t pay, you’re not a member, and you’re on your own.

    • Which unions are those Jim?
      Seriously, I cannot name a single union that is not, first and foremost, a money making business, and secondly, a political entity. If the dues paying members benefit in any way, it is tertiary to those first two goals.
      .
      As to your simple solution, I agree wholeheartedly. If you choose not to pay dues, you get no representation. If the company you work for chooses to provide you identical benefits, that is the company’s choice.
      Actually, if the unions want to see more people sign up and pay dues, they should be pushing for that as a simple solution. As soon as the non-union members find out their co-workers get an automatic annual raise, and they do not, I will bet they start paying dues.

      • I can think of one. Sorta. The recent averted railway strike wasn’t over money. They wanted more time off and sick days.

        From what I read railway men had almost no time off, flexibility was of use, and very limited sick time.

  2. Dammit! Pay for the union! Not being in it or disagreeing with it is no excuse.!
    Wanna work in Alaska? Pay the man.

    Or else.

    How is this different than mob shakedowns?

  3. Union membership, as well as any other type of membership should always be a matter of choice regardless of any argument. If any employee sees the value of such membership and agrees strongly with its dogma then the union will not loose members. But it always should have been a personal choice. Being part of any organization automatically labels you with all of their ideals, proven recently in the Oath Keepers case. The unions have been increasingly involved in political campaigns to the point of actively steering the outcome of elections, often not in majority representation of their members. And the pressure they exert on their members to play along or jeopardize their employment is just not American. Nor is it right to force an employer to retain someone who is not capable performing their job but is forced to overlook deficiencies because of union membership. Once while flying for an unnamed airline, there were pilots who I and many others refused to fly with because they were considered dangerous. Because of the strong union it would have taken an actual crash or incident to terminate them. Thank God it was just an incident. And this is not uncommon. I always chuckle when I see all of the “safety first “ type signs posted all over the union shops. They are probably posted at the gates of hell.

  4. Maybe Alaskans should call the House Labor and Commerce Chair and ask him to move HB91 out of committee. Curious that it is being held in committee by a business owner committee chair who could have been threatened with unionization of his business, or other union antics against his business. There is some corruption for ya corruptocrats conspiracy theorists.

  5. Why is the State going to court asking it if the 2018 Janus opinion applies to Alaska? I’d do it the other direction, change the law, citing Janus and dare the unions to get the courts to reverse it. They ought to be doing the same thing with 2020’s Espinoza v MT Department of Revenue, which upholds vouchers for private religious schools. Cheers –

    • Alaska is run by the State unions. How did the “conservative” Dunleavy administration win reelection when the same voters who bothered to vote went with Peltola and Murkowski? Alaska has the dirtiest voter registration records in the US, worse than California and Washington. 7% non existent registered voters to send mail in ballots to, and the division of elections as corrupt as it gets. Mix in the Ace in the hole, ranked choice voting, and the problem of citizens voting the “wrong” way is solved. The Dunleavy administration postures as conservative, but is sold out to the unions or it would not be the current place holder in the executive office. Of course American citizens have the right to work without paying job protection monies to organized thugs like the state unions. Just as they have the right to to keep careers in the medical professions without submitting to health destroying injections which profit big pharma. Just not in Alaska.

Comments are closed.