Unionization proves to be a difficult process

Kevin Clarkson, the Attorney General of Alaska, is seeking to pass a law that would make it more difficult for employees who are part of a union to be required to opt-in at every paycheck. Clarkson plans to do so by enacting The Right to Work Law, which has already passed in 28 states since 2018.

Mark Janus is a healthcare worker in Illinois who argued at the Supreme Court in 2018 that his First Amendment right of free speech was challenged in the case Janus vs. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFCME.

Janus’ case was that unions had no right to take out money from worker’s paychecks as a condition of employment. He said that unions use those dues to further ideological and political motivations that may not be supported by the worker.

“But what is unfair and unconstitutional is forcing me — and millions of other American workers — to pay to advance policies we oppose just so we can serve our communities and our state,” Janus said in a 2018 Chicago Tribune article.

The Supreme Court favored Janus and enacted the Right to Work law in Illinois. Clarkson is working to pass the law in Alaska as well.

State employees protest outside of the Hotel Captain Cook on Sept. 3, standing against the Dunleavy Administration’s involvement in union affairs. Photo courtesy of the Alaska State Employees Association/AFSCME Local 52’s Facebook.

Under the law, union members would be required to opt-in every time they received a paycheck if they wish to continue being charged dues and be a part of the union, according to a suggestion made by Clarkson in a 12-page memo sent to Gov. Mike Dunleavy earlier this year. Clarkson believes union dues infringe First Amendment rights for employees.

“This law 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 rights,” Clarkson said in a Sept. 16 press release.

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The AFCME has an opposing view on why The Right to Work Law is present, according to a statement on their official website.

“This case aims to take away the freedom of working people to join together in strong unions to speak up for themselves and their communities,” the statement said.

Unions negotiate issues with the government, such as higher wages, fair labor laws and working conditions. Maria Arroyo works at The Westmark Hotel in Anchorage and also runs her own business, Rio Arroyo Cosmetics. Arroyo has been a part of a labor union at The Westmark since she started working there five years ago. She states that union dues should be optional, but also thinks that unions have benefits.

“The union is good because they get us health insurance. If we have any issues as employees, we can call them for help. They also ensure that we get enough hours and help us find jobs,” Arroyo said.

When The Right to Work Law began passing in the U.S. in 2018, unions expected to take a major hit and lose membership across the board. However, unions as a whole in the U.S. have increased membership, according to recent data.

“Unions have an interest as to what happens in government because they are pro-labor. It is surprising that after The Right to Work Law passed, the membership for unions increased,” UAA associate professor Sharon Chamard, Ph.D., said.

Lily Eskelsen García, President of The National Education Association, or NEA, the biggest union in the U.S., gave a statement in a 2018 press release after the passing of The Right to Work Law.

“Even though the Supreme Court sided with corporate CEOs and billionaires over working Americans, unions will continue to be the best vehicle on the path to the middle class,” Garcia said in the press release.

Some Alaskan workers believe that not being forced to partake in union dues is beneficial. Tariq Winiavski, who also works at The Westmark in Anchorage, has to pay union dues and would rather not.

“I think it’s a good idea that they don’t take out the dues from my paychecks. It means more money in my pocket,” Winiavsk said.

The Right to Work Law is not yet enacted in Alaska. Clarkson filed suit against the Department of Administration, or DOA, on Sept. 16 as a push to have the law passed.

“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,” Clarkson said in the Sept. 16 press release.

Official updates on this developing case can be found on The State of Alaska site.