FAIRBANKS — The United States Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in favor of allowing public sector workers to stop paying certain union fees. Now workers unions in Alaska are reeling from the news and what this could mean for local unions.
In the Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees case, the court ruled that requiring Mark Janus, an Illinois child-support worker, to pay union fees violated his free speech rights and was therefore unconstitutional.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Wednesday’s ruling stands to affect an estimated 5 million government workers in 22 states who could stop paying such fees, known as “fair share” fees.
Eickholt said his union expected the decision and has worked to prepare but possible effects remain unknown.
“I believe most of the unions have been preparing for this with our members. It’s all really fresh and we’re still just waiting to see,” Eickholt said. “We have a smaller percentage of public employees in our union so the impact to us isn’t as bad. We feel we have a pretty strong memberships and we’ll be able maintain our members.”
TK Kleiner, executive director of the Public Safety Employees Association, said this was not the result she would have wanted but one that she expected.
“I think it will affect the entire labor movement nationwide. It’s strikes a blow on labor and it is a very partisan decision,” Kleiner said. “This is undoing established labor history that has been established for decades. I think it’s a really bad decision but I think since Neil Gorsuch joined the Supreme Court there have been a number of really bad decisions.”
Kleiner will be in Fairbanks today visiting union members and talking with city planners. This is a big change, but the work must go on, she said.
Pete Ford, business manager at the Alaska Public Employees Association, said this decision leaves a big question mark for public worker unions in the state now.
“It’s certainly going to have an impact on us. The whole concept of fair share fees for people who opt for whatever reason out of the union has been discontinued,” Ford said.
Ford said the APEA has notified public employers and requested the cease of all fair share fee collection.
“But that, for us, is a reduction in income and reduction in resources to represent members,” Ford said. “We’ve been working for years to prepare for a possible ruling of this nature, re-establishing rapport and membership but now we find out to what degree the impact will be.”
Jordan Adams, assistant business manager for the state Public Employees Local 71 Union said this ruling weakens the voice of the American worker.
“We’re fighting for wages and benefits here and workers rights,” Adams said. “This is kind of a push in the wrong direction in this case.”
Adams said moving forward is going to be challenging.
“We’ve had a really strong membership here in Alaska,” Adams said. “But this is going to be a total change of pace as far as the decision making process. It’s definitely going to be a hiccup. It’s disappointing, but it’s a time for our membership to band together to kind of recommit to their union.”
Gov. Bill Walker spoke out against the decision in a statement Wednesday, noting it creates an unnecessary obstacle for working people.
“I stand with the many Alaskans who are disappointed by today’s Supreme Court decision in the Janus v. AFSCME case,” Walker said in a statement. “This creates an unnecessary obstacle for working people to join behind a unified voice.”
Walker said he was confident that public employee unions will remain “the backbone of our state for the foreseeable future.”
“Nothing in this decision changes the respect we as the State of Alaska have for the role labor unions play in the operation of state government,” Walker said in a statement.