University changes union requirements following U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in labor case

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The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 against the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in the Janus v. AFSCME case, ruling that non-union members are not required to help pay for collective bargaining. Photo credit: Kjetil Ree

On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 against the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in the Janus v. AFSCME case, ruling that non-union members are not required to help pay for collective bargaining.

This ruling overturned four decades of precedent and comes after Mark Janus, a child support specialist from Illinois and the plaintiff in the case, decided to challenge AFSCME as well as states’ authority to allow public sector labor unions to collect fees from non-union members.

On a Liberty Justice Center website called standwithworkers.org, Mark Janus said he worked a government job in the 1980s and wasn’t required to pay money to a union then. After returning to the public sector in 2007, he learned of AFSCME and had money automatically deducted from his paycheck for the union.

“The government gave AFSCME the power to collect money from almost every employee of state government, even if we didn’t support the unions’ politics and policies. I had no choice, and no voice in the matter,” Janus wrote.

“It turned out that I was one of [the] millions of American workers who were forced to support a government union as a condition of employment,” he continued. “This is a gross violation of my First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of association. So I’ve asked the U.S. Supreme Court to end this practice.”

And so the court did. In the ruling, Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. wrote, “We conclude that this arrangement violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”

The University of Alaska responded to the court’s decision and addressed new changes on its website for Labor Relations, which are effective immediately.

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The university no longer enforces Union Security provisions in contracts, meaning employees are no longer required to either join a union or pay agency fees. Additionally, the university will continue to deduct membership dues from employees’ payrolls unless they revoke it.

In May, the university employed 6,274 non-student employees and 2,716 of those employees will be impacted.

“As a condition of your employment within the university, you were required to either join the union and pay the full dues or to pay the lower agency fee amount,” Geoffrey Bacon, director of UA’s Labor Relations, said.

There are four collective bargaining agreements for employment within the university, and each one has different percentages of pay for both agency fees and membership dues. For members of Alaska Higher Education Crafts and Trades Employees Local 6070, dues are $26.61 per pay period and agency fees are $21.69 per pay period.

These rates changed every year, Bacon said.

Now, paying either one of these fees is not a condition of employment.

“When it comes to forming a union or choosing not to join a union, it’s the employee’s right and we encourage everyone to exercise that right themselves,” Bacon said.

He also said the court’s decision and overturning of the 4-decade-old precedent is a “dramatic change” for Alaska, but the university’s partnerships with labor partners and leadership haven’t changed.

Brandy Stachowski works at the Alaska Public Employees Association/Alaska Federation of Teachers, and she said the case’s outcome was not a surprise, though it was disappointing.

“It was something that our members and, as an organization, we were aware of and trying to prepare for. While not surprising, it’s nonetheless disappointing,” Stachowski said.

“It was very much an attack on working people from very heavily-funded anti-union forces,” she added.

So far, in response to the ruling, the union has been taking steps to notify people of the changes. It has also been important to reassure members that they are still part of a union and have their collective bargaining agreements in place, Stachowski said.

Procedures concerning wages, benefits and working conditions are not impacted by the ruling, but those regarding union security and dues authorization are being modified with the university.

Stachowski said that it’s possible the university will be affected in the long run. Part of a union’s strength is being able to do advocacy work, whether it is progressive legislation or trying to increase funding.

“Many people have interpreted this to be a rallying cry for labor as a whole and specifically membership because the long-term effect is that union members don’t just advocate themselves, like through collective bargaining and for wages and for working conditions. They’re advocates in this context for their students and for universities as a whole,” she said.