Anchorage, AK (March 31, 2020) – An Alaska prison employee has just filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Alaska State Employees’ Association (ASEA) union and State of Alaska for restrictions on his and his coworkers’ First Amendment right to refrain from subsidizing a union. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska with free legal aid from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys.

The lawsuit, filed by Christopher Woods, says the ASEA union’s dues deduction scheme violates his and his coworkers’ First Amendment rights under the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision. The union scheme forbids employees from exercising their right to cut off union dues except during an annual 10-day “escape period.” However, in Janus, the high court ruled that no public sector employee can be forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment, and that the First Amendment is violated when union officials deduct dues from the paychecks of public sector employees without their affirmative and knowing consent.

Woods began working as a Vocational Instructor at Goose Creek Correctional Center in 2013 and joined the union “because he was told by a union representative that he had no choice,” according to the lawsuit. His complaint reports that, on November 26, 2019, he sent an email to ASEA officials exercising his Janus right to “stop [his] union dues withdrawal.” A union official replied to him the same day and rebuffed his request, telling Woods that “he could only ‘opt out and not be a union member with written notice to this office’” within a 10-day period each year before the date he signed his original dues deduction authorization card.

Woods persisted on December 2, 2019, submitting to both ASEA officials and the payroll office of the Corrections Department another email asking to cut off dues. Although the payroll office confirmed to both Woods and the ASEA that it had received the request, an ASEA official responded by merely telling the payroll office that she was “still communicating with [Woods] on the matter,” the complaint says. Woods reports in his lawsuit that he has “not received any further communications” from either the ASEA or the payroll office, and that full dues are still being seized from his paychecks.

Woods’ lawsuit asks the District Court to rule that the ASEA union’s “escape period” enforced by the state and the deduction of union dues from his and other state employees’ paychecks without their clear, knowing consent violates his and his coworkers’ First Amendment rights. It also requests refunds of illegally seized dues for himself and his coworkers. Alaska Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka is named as a party in her official capacity only, due to the State of Alaska’s role in the unconstitutional dues deductions.

The federal lawsuit comes after an Anchorage Superior Court Judge put a hold on Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s order last year that all public sector unions in the state must obtain clear consent from all workers before deducting any union dues or fees, as Janus requires. That judge opined that Janus applies only to workers who are not formal union members, despite the fact that unions use their dues deduction policies to block workers from stopping dues even after they have resigned from formal union membership.

“Once again, Alaska union bosses are demonstrating that they will violate the First Amendment rights of the employees they claim to represent if it means stuffing their pockets with more forced dues,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Ironically Alaska has taken the lead in attempting to proactively protect its employees’ First Amendment rights, but because union bosses have successfully resisted the Governor’s Executive Order so far this lawsuit is necessary.”

Wood’s legal team includes two Foundation staff attorneys who have successfully challenged forced union dues schemes in the U.S Supreme Court, not only in the landmark 2018 Janus case, but also in two earlier cases – Knox v. SEIU (2012) and Harris v. Quinn (2014). Foundation staff attorneys are currently litigating more than 30 cases for workers seeking to vindicate their First Amendment rights under the Janus precedent.

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