Union Station: July 2020

Welcome to Union Station, our weekly newsletter that keeps you abreast of the legislation, national trends, and public debate surrounding public-sector union policy.

Federal court dismisses Alaska state employee lawsuit over union dues payment practices

On July 15, a federal district court dismissed a lawsuit filed by two Alaska state employees over union dues payment practices limiting the period of time during which a member can withdraw his or her consent to having dues withdrawn from his or her paycheck.

Who are the parties to the suit?

The plaintiffs are Linda Creed, an employee of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and Tyler Riberio, an employee of the Alaska Department of Transportation. Attorneys from the Alaska Policy Forum and the Liberty Justice Center represent the plaintiffs.

The defendants are the Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA), an affiliate of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and Kelly Tshibaka, in her official capacity as commissioner of the Department of Administration.

What is at issue?

Alaska’s Public Employment Relations Act (PERA) allows for the automatic deduction of union dues or fees from an employee’s paycheck upon his or her written consent. The Alaska State Employees Association dues deduction authorization form establishes the following restrictions on rescinding the authorization:

“This voluntary authorization and assignment shall be irrevocable, regardless of whether I am or remain a member of ASEA, for a period of one year from the date of execution or until the termination date of the collective bargaining agreement (if there is one) between the Employer and the Union, whichever occurs sooner, and for year to year thereafter unless I give the Employer and the Union written notice of revocation not less than ten (10) days and not more than twenty (20) days before the end of any yearly period.”

The following is a timeline of the major events related to this lawsuit:

  • June 27, 2018: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME, that public-sector unions cannot compel workers to pay fees to support non-political union activities (contract administration, grievance arbitration, etc.).
  • Aug. 27, 2019: Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson (R) issued a formal opinion that, in light of Janus, the state must have an employee’s consent in order to deduct dues or fees from his or her paycheck.
  • Sept. 26, 2019: Pursuant to Clarkson’s opinion, Governor Mike Dunleavy (R) issued an administrative order directing Tshibaka to obtain consent from employees in order to continue dues deductions. Creed and Riberio withdrew their consent, and the state stopped deducting dues from their paychecks.
  • Oct. 3, 2019: A state trial court issued a temporary restraining order barring implementation of Dunleavy’s order. Dues deductions resumed for both Creed and Riberio.
  • March 16, 2020: The plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Alaska, arguing that the existing restrictions violate their First Amendment rights. They asked for an injunction against the restrictions. They also sought restitution for dues paid to the union before Janus. They argued that their “consent to dues collection was not ‘freely given’ because it was given on an unconstitutional choice of either paying the union as a member or paying the union agency fees as a non-member.” The case was assigned to Judge H. Russel Holland, who was appointed to the court by President Ronald Reagan (R) in 1984.

How did the court rule? 

Holland granted ASEA’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiffs had voluntarily entered into their membership agreements, which are binding contracts:

“[Any] argument that the revocation window in plaintiffs’ contract is itself unconstitutional fails, and in fact, plaintiffs contend that they are not arguing that the revocation window is itself unconstitutional. Rather, they contend that they are arguing that they must be released from their authorizations outside the revocation window because the authorizations were invalid in the first place.”

“But … plaintiffs voluntarily agreed to join the union and have dues deducted from their paychecks. Their union membership agreements were binding contracts that remain enforceable even after Janus.”

Case information 

The plaintiffs have not indicated whether they intend to appeal Holland’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The case name and number are Creed v. Alaska State Employees Association, 3:20-cv-00065.

THE BIG PICTURE

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About the author

Jerrick Adams

Jerrick Adams is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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