State hits another roadblock in its effort to overhaul union dues collection

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - In another blow to the state’s effort to revamp the way that union dues are collected, a Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction on instituting the new rules writing that the state re-submitted an old brief without offering new arguments for why it should be allowed to move forward.

The case centers on a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Janus, which curtailed public unions’ ability to collect union dues. In August, the state announced that it was not in compliance with the Janus decision and that it would implement a program to oversee the collection of union dues in order to make sure that workers’ free speech was not being curtailed.

Labor unions asked for an injunction, and a temporary restraining order was placed on the state in early October while the court waited for more briefs from both sides.

But according to Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller, the state did not submit any new information and “just attached and relied upon a copy of its Oct. 1 TRO (temporary restraining order) opposition brief.”

That brief proved unsuccessful, leading the court to issue the temporary restraining order.

Miller wrote said that the state’s motion for final judgment in favor of the state was misguided in light of the fact that they offered no new evidence and lost in the temporary restraining order hearing.

“The State offers no legal authority for this novel argument -- that having lost at the TRO stage and offering no new arguments at the preliminary injunction stage -- that the preliminary injunction should now be denied, that final judgment should be entered in favor of the State and that ASEA should not be permitted to pursue discovery or a determination on the merits of all five of its counterclaims.”

Jake Metcalfe, executive director of the Alaska State Employees Association, said that he thinks the state’s lack of new information is a result of not having a case.

“We’ve felt all along that the states got no case. They’ve made a bunch of allegations but not backed it up with any law,” he said.

Metcalfe says that so far, the state has spent $100,000 defending the case - a price that could skyrocket to over $1 million if it goes, as the Attorney General has suggested it might, to the Alaska Supreme Court.

“We’re assuming that this will be a long process, maybe a couple of years. We see it as clear in the law and just a waste of everybody’s time and money,” said Metcalfe.

Perhaps more worrying for the state’s lawyers, Miller agreed with the defendants, the Alaska State Employees Association, that two recent national cases that tested similar interpretations of the Janus decision “essentially reject” the arguments presented by the State of Alaska.

One of those cases was recently dismissed, but the plaintiffs, two University of California employees who say union dues were deducted without consent, filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court.

The Department of Law released a short statement writing that it is still reviewing Tuesday’s decision and is preparing for the next phase of litigation.

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