Supreme Court decision rocks Alaska unions
A Supreme Court decision Wednesday sharply limiting public-sector unions’ income is drawing divided opinions from the Last Frontier.
In its 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court’s conservative wing and “swing vote” Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled in favor of plaintiff Mark Janus. He had sued claiming that dues he was required to pay the American Federation of State, Council and Municipal Employees were a form of compulsory political speech.
According to CBS News, the ruling affects about half of U.S. states which allow unions to charge non-members dues. Unions are still legally required to bargain on behalf of all workers in a particular group, and the high court’s decision allows workers to opt out of paying union dues while still receiving the benefits of that bargaining.
The chapter of labor union AFL-CIO covering Alaska, one of the states allowing those dues to be collected, called a press conference Wednesday blasting the decision.
“Today, we commit to not only sustaining the labor movement, but building and strengthening it so more working people can negotiate a fair deal in return for their hard work,” Vince Beltrami, the Alaska chapter’s president, said in a statement. “Despite this decision, Alaska’s unions will continue to lead the fight for a balanced economy that gives everyone a fair shot.”
Gov. Bill Walker said in a statement that he stood with Alaskans “disappointed” by the court’s ruling.
“This creates an unnecessary obstacle for working people to join behind a unified voice,” Walker said. “Still, I am 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.”
"It's a great day for freedom in America," said Kathy McCollum. She is a first-grade teacher in Wasilla.
McCollum is a non-union member who will opt out of paying around $600 a year in "fair share" fees.
"We’re just forced to pay the money whether or not the union is doing a good job for us,” she said.
The teacher of 30 years is what the union would call a "free rider" -- an employee who doesn’t pay the fair share fees but still benefits from union bargaining.
McCollom says she would negotiate on her own if she could. One thing she says she doesn't like about union bargaining is that union-negotiated pay scales consider tenure and seniority over a teacher's performance.
"Seniority means teachers are cut in a building. And that means that the newest teacher is cut. That doesn’t always mean that’s the worst teacher," said McCollum.
In an opinion piece posted on Fox News, McCollum hailed the ruling as a victory for workers' free-speech rights.
“The political activities of public employee unions obviously don’t correlate with each and every employee’s personal beliefs, but we are not given the opportunity to vote on such activities,” McCollum wrote. “Through my years of teaching, I have paid thousands of dollars for the National Education Association to lobby for ideas directly opposite my beliefs.”
The news came on a busy day for the Supreme Court, as Kennedy announced his retirement in a decision likely to skew the court’s bench conservative after President Trump names a replacement.
Scott Jensen, Joe Vigil and John Thain contributed information to this story.
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