Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file 
The lawsuit in question stemmed from a legal opinion written by former-Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, seen here Jan. 30, 2019 with Gov. Mike Dunleavy. An Anchorage judge wrote the opinion violated collective bargaining agreements and federal labor law.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file The lawsuit in question stemmed from a legal opinion written by former-Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, seen here Jan. 30, 2019 with Gov. Mike Dunleavy. An Anchorage judge wrote the opinion violated collective bargaining agreements and federal labor law.

Judge says state broke law in order over union dues lawsuit

Order to change dues collection illegal, judge says

An Anchorage superior court ordered the state of Alaska to pay $186,000 Monday in damages to the state’s largest public employee union.

The order issued Monday stems from a lawsuit over a 2019 administrative order from Gov. Mike Dunleavy regarding the payment of union dues.

Administration Order 312, issued by Dunleavy in September 2019, ordered the Alaska Association of State Employees to stop collecting union dues from workers’ pay-checks unless those workers regularly opt-in with consent agreements submitted to a website managed by the state. Under the current system, the one ultimately upheld by the court, the union manages an opt-out system in which employees who don’t want dues deducted from their checks must file a request with the union.

The issue stems from an Aug. 27, 2019, legal opinion from then-Attorney General Kevin Clarkson that said the state was not in compliance with the 2018 Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 decision. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court said that because unions engage in political activity such as lobbying, paycheck deductions from non-union employees represented by union contracts constituted a violation of free speech.

[‘We’re going to fight them all the way’: Alaska union plans to fight legal ruling over dues]

However, the Janus case applies specifically to non-union members represented by a union-negotiated contract, and to union fees, instead of dues paid by active members of a union, as the governor’s administrative order would have done.

The state had already been found to be in compliance with Janus under Gov. Bill Walker, according to Jake Metcalfe, executive director of ASEA. Metcalfe maintained throughout the duration of the case the Walker opinion was legally sound, and the Dunleavy administration’s attempt was a politically motivated attack on unions.

“If they want to do this, I guess they will, but we’re going to fight them all the way,” Metcalfe told the Empire the day the opinion administrative order was issued.

Metcalfe and other union representatives in the state have accused the governor of attacking workers’ rights and trying to get the case taken to the U.S. Supreme Court. In September 2019, the Dunleavy administration hired Arlington, Virginia-based Cosovoy McCarthy PLLC, to manage the case. That firm was also retained by former President Donald Trump in his attempt to shield his tax returns from the state of New York. The Alaska State Legislature ultimately voted against appropriating funds to hire the firm during last year’s session.

Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller ruled against the state, writing, “the August 27, 2019 legal opinion is incorrect and that Administrative Order 312 is invalid and has no legal effect.”

Miller ruled that with the administrative order the Dunleavy administration breached the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the state, violated the separation of powers enshrined in the state constitution and violated federal labor law. In addition to the payment for damages, Miller granted ASEA an injunction preventing the state from unilaterally changing union dues deduction practices in the future.

A court order in October 2019 halted any changes the state tried to make to dues collection

In a statement, Metcalfe said he was pleased with the decision.

“The Governor took a radical and unsupported legal action that hurt all state employees. This has wasted state resources, time, and attention from other more important issues like governing,” Metcalfe said. “The Court agreed with us and held that the Clarkson opinion and the Governor’s order and illegal Administration policies it propped up are not supported in law.”

In an email Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner directed questions to the Department of Law.

Assistant Attorney General Maria Bahr said in an email the state will look at next steps such as an appeal once the court has filed a final judgment.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 20% of Alaska’s employees were represented by a union in 2020, while only about 18% are actual union members. Union representation in Alaska rose slightly from 2019 to 2020, according to BLS statistics.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Dec. 3

Mountain reflections are seen from the Mendenhall Wetlands. (Courtesy Photo / Denise Carroll)
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Superb reader-submitted photos of wildlife, scenery and/or plant life.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire 
At Wednesday evening’s special Assembly meeting, the Assembly appropriated nearly $4 million toward funding a 5.5% wage increase for all CBJ employees along with a 5% increase to the employer health contribution. According to City Manager Rorie Watt, it doesn’t necessarily fix a nearly two decade-long issue of employee retention concerns for the city.
City funds wage increase amid worker shortage

City Manager says raise doesn’t fix nearly two decade-long issue of employee retainment

People and dogs traverse the frozen surface Mendenhall Lake on Monday afternoon. Officials said going on to any part of Mendenhall Lake can open up serious risks for falling into the freezing waters. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Officials warn residents about the dangers of thin ice on Mendenhall Lake

Experts outline what to do in the situation that someone falls through ice

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Dec. 3

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Molly Yazwinski holds a 3,000-year-old moose skull with antlers still attached, found in a river on Alaska’s North Slope. Her aunt, Pam Groves, steadies an inflatable canoe. (Courtesy Photo /Dan Mann)

 

2. A 14,000-year-old fragment of a moose antler, top left, rests on a sand bar of a northern river next to the bones of ice-age horses, caribou and muskoxen, as well as the horns of a steppe bison. Photo by Pam Groves.

 

3. Moose such as this one, photographed this year near Whitehorse in the Yukon, may have been present in Alaska as long as people have. Photo by Ned Rozell.
Alaska Science Forum: Ancient moose antlers hint of early arrival

When a great deal of Earth’s water was locked up within mountains… Continue reading

FILE - Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. The Biden administration is saying the U.S. economy would face a severe economic shock if senators don't pass legislation this week to avert a rail worker strike. The administration is delivering that message personally to Democratic senators in a closed-door session Thursday, Dec. 1.  (AP Photo / Danny Karnik)
Congress votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings

President vows to quickly sign the bill.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Juneau state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, left, gives a legislative proclamation to former longtime Juneau Assembly member Loren Jones, following Kiehl’s speech at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon Thursday at the Juneau Moose Family Center.
Cloudy economy, but sunnier political outlook lie ahead for lawmakers, Kiehl says

Juneau’s state senator tells Chamber of Commerce bipartisan majority a key to meaningful action

Most Read