The state of Alaska filed a lawsuit Monday against the Alaska State Employees Association in a continuation of the state’s aversion to the automatic collection of union dues. 

The lawsuit, filed with the Anchorage Superior Court, follows an official opinion from Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson last month alleging that the automatic collection of union dues from non-union workers violates workers’ First Amendment rights and seeks declaratory judgement on the matter. 

The ruling in the case Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees alleges that the automatic subtracting union dues from the payrolls of nonunion public employees violates the First Amendment and freedom of speech. In a 12-page document sent to Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Tuesday, Clarkson supports the interpretation and urges the governor to address the issue.

Clarkson took his interpretation a step further.

“The Supreme Court made it clear in Janus that public employees have the freedom to pay union dues or not,” Clarkson said of his opinion. “Janus also requires that the State have clear and compelling evidence of a state employee’s choice to pay union dues. If the State receives a direct request to stop paying union dues, the State must honor that request or else it would be violating the employee’s First Amendment right. Because we want to make sure we are acting in compliance with the Constitution, we are asking the court to confirm the State’s actions in halting dues deductions when directly requested by an employee.”

But Jake Metcalfe, executive director for the ASEA/AFSCME, Local 52, says the Clarkson’s interpretation is off.

“The Janus decision solely involves non-union members, plain and simple, and ASEA has worked diligently to comply with the new law. In contrast, Governor Dunleavy’s actions violates the Supreme Court decision and turns a blind eye to the contract he signed with us,” Metcalfe said. “Dunleavy is interfering with his employees’ contractual rights, violating their First Amendment rights and attempting to take all power away from them. This is ‘big brother’ government at its worst. His actions are shameful.”

ASEA represents about 8,000 state workers.

Union officials identified what they felt was coincidental timing in the release of Clarkson’s opinion on the Janus case and the solicitation message from conservative political group Alaska Policy Forum identifying a goal of reducing union membership. 

“It is plainly evident that the Clarkson memo and Governor Dunleavy’s lawsuit are all part of a larger attack on workers’ rights, orchestrated by Americans for Prosperity and the Alaska Policy Forum – secretive groups funded through the Koch Brothers’ network,” said Vince Beltrami, President of the Alaska AFL-CIO.

Union officials have said they are planning an official response to the state’s suit, but a specific timeframe has not been outlined yet. Whether that will involve a counter-suit remains unclear.

“We will continue our fight to protect workers’ rights to ensure they have a collective voice in the workplace,” Beltrami said.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.

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