ASEA wins preliminary injunction against state

Final court determination will decide whether state employees can opt out of union

Alaska Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller has granted a preliminary injunction to Alaska State Employees Association Local 52 in litigation involving the state’s efforts to require all unionized state employees to tell the state they want to continue to be union members.

In his decision handed down on Tuesday, Nov. 5 Miller granted ASEA local 52 the preliminary injunction, replacing the temporary restraining order the court granted on Oct. 3.

The union took the matter to court after the Dunleavy administration halted automatic deduction of union dues for some state employees who said they no longer wanted to be union members. The union contended such action violated collective bargaining agreements reached by the union with the state.

“Right now, Alaskans are concerned about the economy and their jobs,” said Jake Metcalfe, executive director of the union, in a prepared statement. “The governor should be focusing on making sure there are good jobs for Alaskans as well as the services Alaskans need – not frivolous lawsuits and ideological outcomes. The decision today comes as great news for all Alaskans that dedicate their lives to public service in Alaska.”

Miller also issued a second opinion denying the state’s request to consolidate complaints, finding “the state, having chosen to file this lawsuit, cannot now unilaterally decide what counterclaims ASEA is entitled to pursue to final judgement.”

The next steps in this case involve discovery, preparation of a factual record and a final determination on ASEA’s request for a permanent injunction, the union said. The state has until Nov. 18 to submit its formal response to ASEA’s allegations and third-party complaints.

ASEA Local 52, an affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, represents more than 8,000 public employees in Alaska.

The state’s arguments in favor of requiring union employees to opt in by telling the state they want to continue to have union dues deducted from paychecks are based on the state’s interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. The Janus decision, handed down in June 2018, involved the case of Mark Janus, a state government employee in Illinois who sued his union, contending he should not have to pay dues to support its work. The court ruled that government agencies should not deduct union dues from paychecks unless workers consented to it, but the decision left a number of related legal questions unanswered.

Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson released a formal opinion on Aug. 27 in which he contended that the Supreme Court decision found that the state must take significant additional steps to protect the First Amendment rights to free speech for state employees.

AFSCME officials contend that the case aims to erode the freedom to form unions to improve the lives of its members and communities they serve.

“If fair share fees are struck down, employees who benefit from the gains that the union makes will not have to pay anything toward the cost of that representation,” the union said.