In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31 that state governments violate the First Amendment when they deduct union dues or fees from non-consenting state employees. Specifically, the court ruled that public employees have a right to choose whether to participate in unions, and that employees are waiving their First Amendment rights by paying union dues or fees. The court stated that such waiver must be freely given and demonstrated by clear and compelling evidence before the state can deduct any union dues or fees from employees’ pay checks.
Unfortunately, after the Janus decision was issued in 2018, the Walker administration made little effort to advise state employees of their constitutional rights as set forth in Janus. Under the Dunleavy administration, however, the state is taking steps to protect state employees’ constitutional rights as required under the Janus decision.
To comply with a recent Attorney General opinion, the governor has issued an administrative order instructing the Department of Administration (DOA) to prepare a system by which state employees can clearly and affirmatively choose to deduct union dues and fees from their pay checks. If they do not so choose, the state will not deduct union dues or fees.
Some union leaders have alleged that this new DOA system allowing employees to opt-in to paying dues is “union busting.” That argument presumes a significant number of union members won’t consent to have dues deducted once given a choice. Why wouldn’t members want to support their union if it were representing their interests and views?
Last Saturday, state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, tweeted: “Imagine being forced to register with the gov’t to join an organization you support. Forced to sign biased gov’t statements before you can join. The gov’t shredding a contract to do it. That’s [the Governor’s] proposal for your right to free association & Art. 1, §15 of Alaska’s Constitution.”
DOA is only developing this system to obtain “clear and compelling evidence” that an employee wants to pay union dues because an Alaska statute requires the DOA to collect dues and transfer them to the unions.
Unions should be able to collect their dues from their members directly. DOA should not be in the middle of unions’ financial relationship with their members. Imagine DOA — a government entity — collecting employees’ membership fees for other organizations, like the PTA, alumni associations or the local gym. That’s what’s happening here. It’s absurd.
If the statute is changed, there would be no need for employees to “register with the government to join” a union or “forced to sign biased statements;” and there would be no concern the state is “union busting” by interfering with union membership. Perhaps the union leaders or Kiehl could offer a legislative fix?
Inflammatory rhetoric about “union busting” and “contract shredding” clouds the truth and doesn’t serve Alaskan workers. Stop slinging stones and start delivering solutions.
• Kelly Tshibaka is the commissioner of the Department of Administration.