JANUS DECISION INTERPRETED TO PROTECT FREE SPEECH
Today Attorney General Kevin Clarkson released a formal opinion on the State of Alaska’s compliance with the United States Supreme Court decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31.
The opinion finds that the State must take significant additional steps to protect the First Amendment rights to free speech for State employees, and in the future will need to conduct periodic checks to ensure that state workers covered by union contracts still want to pay those dues via paycheck deductions.
Since Gov. Michael Dunleavy took office, the State of Alaska no longer collects agency fees for public employee unions, but this ruling applies to the dues themselves that the State collects on behalf of unions.
Freedom of speech is “a fixed star in our constitutional constellation,” Clarkson said today.
The “Janus decision” was a lawsuit filed by a public employee named Mark Janus of Illinois, who refused to join the union because he disagreed with many of the union’s political activities and its bargaining.
Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, No. 16-1466, 585 U.S. ___ limited the power of labor unions to collect fees from non-union members because of the infringement on the First Amendment rights of public employees regarding their freedom of association.
“Forcing State employees through state law to pay union dues that will be used for political purposes and speech they may not agree with has created an unconstitutional restriction of free speech,” said Clarkson today. “The nation’s highest court has ruled repeatedly that freedom of speech also means the right to refrain from speaking at all. In order to comply with the highest court’s ruling and the U.S. Constitution, the State has to determine that an employee must have freely and knowingly consented to have dues deducted from their paychecks.”
Clarkson said the State must maintain control of the “opt-in” process, rather than allow unions to control it from their end.
“It’s important for employees be able to opt in from time to time … with knowing and voluntary choice based on whatever extemporaneous circumstances are,” he said, adding that unions change their political positions from time to time and that workers may decide they disagree with those positions and with the union activity surrounding them.
Gov. Dunleavy said in a statement that since the State of Alaska is not in compliance with Janus, in the coming days and weeks the Administration will be working to make sure the state is in compliance. That action will likely involve how new and existing State employees opt in or out of union dues freely.