Each year, millions of government workers are forced to pay fees to unions as a condition of employment. Some of these employees do not feel their union represents their interests and want the freedom to opt out of membership.
Despite the landmark Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision—which ruled that collection of agency fees from public employees was an unconstitutional violation of their First Amendment rights—many workers have found they have no choice but to sue their union or employer in order to have their rights respected.
State think tanks across the country, including the Alaska Policy Forum (APF), have worked tirelessly to help these public employees since the Janus ruling in 2018. While fighting for these workers, APF and other Network groups realized that the Supreme Court’s decision went beyond just eliminating agency fees. Janus requires public employees to opt-in to dues collection in the first place. To protect the constitutional rights of thousands of Alaska employees, APF launched an initiative to encourage Alaska to fully enforce the Janus decision.
When Alaska’s new administration took office in 2019, the freedom-oriented mindset of the governor, attorney general, and commissioners presented new opportunities to safeguard the constitutional rights of Alaskans. With the substantial input and assistance of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Liberty Justice Center, and State Policy Network, APF was able to provide the Alaska Governor and his administration with a step-by-step guide for coming into full compliance with the Janus decision.
In September 2019, the Alaska Governor issued an administrative order directing the Department of Administration to begin the creation of an opt-in system for union membership, which will allow the state to obtain freely given consent or dissent from all state employees for paycheck deduction of union membership dues. It will also require reaffirmation of their membership status at least once per year. This opt-in system would be the first of its kind in the nation and would truly ensure that state employees know their rights fully and are never coerced into paying money to a union against their will.
With APF’s help, Alaska cleared the way for other states to emulate the opt-in model, without the detractors who argue that it’s “never been done.” State think tanks in every state now have an opportunity to fully implement the Janus decision. So far, the attorneys general of Texas and Indiana have offered opinions on how their states can come into compliance with Janus. Recently, the Michigan Civil Service Commission voted on a rule that requires regular opt-in for membership.
Despite the Alaska Governor’s order, challenges remain. Not long after the administrative order was released, the Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA) sued the administration for taking steps to ensure its employees’ rights are protected. In response to the lawsuit, the Alaska court system placed a temporary restraining order on the administration, halting forward progress on creation and implementation of the opt-in system.
Despite the temporary restraining order, APF continued its endeavor to educate, inform, and protect government workers. As the lawsuit developed, APF began submitting open-records requests to collect and protect the emails of government employees attempting to halt union dues collection after the administrative order. Meanwhile, APF helped many workers with their own lawsuits to fight back against forced union dues payments.
With this success, APF positioned themselves as reliable experts and allies for the state government, public employees, and national partners. Alaska Policy Forum’s work to promote workplace freedom earned them a nomination for the SPN’s Bob Williams Awards for Outstanding Policy Achievement, where they were then selected as a finalist in the Biggest Win category. Congratulations to the Alaska Policy Forum for their work to secure the First Amendment rights of thousands of Alaskans!