In this Empire file photo, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, left, listens as Attorney General Kevin Clarkson describes three constitutional amendments that would be a foundation of his administration’s fiscal plan during a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

In this Empire file photo, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, left, listens as Attorney General Kevin Clarkson describes three constitutional amendments that would be a foundation of his administration’s fiscal plan during a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Judge halts Dunleavy’s change to union dues

State cannot implement its proposed opt-in process, judge says

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller has issued a temporary restraining order against the state of Alaska regarding its Administrative Order to implement an opt-in program for union members.

Local unions lauded the decision.

“Our position is the right position,” said Jake Metcalfe, executive director of the Alaska State Employee Association, the public sector union engaged in a lawsuit with the state. “The governor was trying to take rights away from his own employees and that’s never a good thing,” he said.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy last week issued an administrative order stating that all public sector employees, union and non-union alike, would have to affirmatively opt-in to paying union dues through a state-administered process.

The governor’s order followed an opinion written by Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson in August which said 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, commonly known as the Janus decision.

The Janus decision said that non-union public employees would no longer have to pay union dues or agency fees to the unions which negotiated their contracts.

In his opinion, Clarkson wrote that the state had no way of knowing if consent for having union dues deducted from state paychecks was “knowing, intelligent, and voluntary.”

Clarkson said that the Department of Administration would have to create a process whereby those consents were verified by the state. Dunleavy’s administrative order sought to begin that process for both union and non-union public sector employees.

Unions balked, saying the Janus decision applied only to non-union public sector employees and that the state was trying to interfere in worker’s right to collectively bargain.

Union representatives have previously told the Empire that the Janus decision applied only to non-union employees and that no other state had tried to interpret the decision to include union members.

Judge Miller agreed with the union in his decision.

“In each of the federal cases, at issue was whether the state or county employer was properly interpreting Janus, and whether Janus was applicable to the relationship between unions and their members,” Miller wrote. “Every one of those decisions expressly rejected the idea that Janus goes farther than addressing agency fee arrangements.”

Miller noted that three other states have attempted to implement opt-in processes for union members and each had been rejected in the courts.

Alaska AFL-CIO Director of Operations Joelle Hall also applauded Miller’s decision. The Alaska AFL-CIO is an umbrella union and not directly involved in the lawsuit.

“We’re very happy with the decision,” Hall said. The decision, she said, meant “the state must cease from trying to interfere with employees and their unions.”

Assistant Attorney General Cori Mills told the Empire in an email Thursday afternoon that they just received word of the order and are still evaluating it.

“We are disappointed with the ruling, though we will, of course, abide by the court’s order,” Mills said. “The Attorney General continues to stand behind his opinion, and the state will continue to pursue the case to get final resolution on this important constitutional question.”

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