Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued an administrative order last Thursday afternoon saying that all public sector union employees will have to affirmatively “opt-in” if they want to remain in the union.
The Department of Administration will be setting up a system, both online and in person, where union members will have to regularly affirm they want to remain members union.
The governor made the announcement in an Anchorage press conference with reporters Thursday. Attorney General Kevin Clarkson and Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka were present as well.
It’s not clear at this time how often union members will have to opt-in but it was mostly likely to be at least annually, Clarkson told reporters.
The order comes following an opinion issued by Clarkson in August which said that the state was not in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31.
That decision said that because unions often engaged in political activity its members may not agree with, forcing non-union members to pay dues was a violation of their freedom of speech.
Non-union employees had previously been forced to pay union dues because their contracts had been negotiated by the union and they received other union benefits.
Clarkson said that the Supreme Court’s decision said “clear and compelling evidence” must be given that employees want union dues taken out of their paychecks and that the current system for opting in didn’t provide that.
“The state has to be involved in the process,” Clarkson told reporters Thursday. “The state is not allowed to presume union membership.”
The opt-in process would have to take place regularly, Clarkson said, because, “waivers become stale as circumstances change.”
It’s not clear how this decision will affect the state’s current contract with public sector unions. Tshibaka told reporters that about 12,000 state employees were members of a union.
“A contract that is unconstitutional is no contract at all,” Clarkson said.
But union officials have pointed out the Janus decision applies to non-union members who were previously made to pay union dues. Non-union employees stopped having their paychecks deducted under the Walker administration, Alaska State Employee Association Executive Director Jake Metcalfe previously told the Empire.
Union officials have told the Empire that employees who are members of the union have already consented to the deductions because they are members of the union.
“This is a radical extremist view,” Metcalfe told the Empire in a phone interview Thursday. Metcalfe said that no other state had tried to interpret Janus to include union members. “There’s no support for this position. The governor is trying to interfere with our members’ constitutional rights to organize.”
Metcalfe said that ASEA representatives will be meeting with state lawyers before a judge Friday morning. The union will request a temporary restraining order which would halt the administrative order from being implemented.
On Sept. 16, the state filed a lawsuit against Alaska’s largest public sector union, the Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA). The union had threatened legal action if DOA stopped deduction union dues from certain employees paychecks.
Following Clarkson’s decision, several state employees approached DOA asking that dues stop being deducted from their paychecks, the state’s lawsuit said.
When the state notified the union it would cease union deductions for those employees, the union threatened legal action which in turn prompted the state to sue the union, according to the lawsuit.
“This is a violation of the constitution, a violation of the contract that the governor signed a little more than a month ago. Based on our contract, we do not believe that this change will take place,” Metcalfe told the Empire.
The Attorney General’s office did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.