Alaska sues public employee union over payment of dues

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The state has sued Alaska’s largest public employees’ union, claiming it violates members’ right to free speech by limiting their ability to opt out of paying dues when they disagree with union statements.

Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson filed the suit Monday against the Alaska State Employees Association for refusing to immediately stop deducting the dues from paychecks.

Association executive director Jake Metcalfe countered that the system for deducting dues had been found legally sound under former Gov. Bill Walker and former Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth.

He characterized the lawsuit as bullying and said the administration of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy is “doing anything they can to make it harder for people to join unions.”

“We know the law is on our side,” Metcalfe said.

Clarkson on Aug. 27 issued a legal opinion that said the state was not in compliance with a U.S. Supreme Court decision when it deducts dues over the objection of union members.

The court noted that public sector unions engage in political activity and not all members may agree with it. Forcing members to pay union dues was equivalent to forcing those members to support speech against their wishes, justices said.

Clarkson last month said the state would have to receive clear evidence that public employees had consented to paying union fees and waived their rights to freedom of speech.

Several public employees approached the Department of Administration and requested that dues no longer be taken from their paychecks, according to the state’s lawsuit.

“By filing this lawsuit, the state is proactively seeking clarity from the court to ensure employees’ rights are fully protected,” the department said in its announcement.

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com