In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that declared employees have a right to not be represented by a union whose political activities they disagree with, a University of Maine at Machias professor has sued the union that represents him.
Earlier this month Jonathan Reisman, 61, of Cooper sued the union, UMM and the University of Maine System Board of Trustees in U.S. District Court in Bangor. Reisman, an associate professor of economics and public policy, claims that the case Janus vs. the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees made clear that designating a union as employees’ exclusive representative restricts the rights of individual employees to negotiate directly with their employers in matters of pay, benefits and political activity.
In its 5-4 ruling in the Janus case, justices scrapped a 1977 decision that allowed states to require public employees to pay some fees to unions that represent them, even if workers choose not to join a union. The court found that such laws violate the First Amendment by compelling workers to support unions whose actions they may disagree with.
Reisman’s attorney, Robert Alt of the Buckeye Institute, said that his client felt the union supported a partisan political agenda.
“As his union’s grievance officer, Mr. Reisman understood and valued the role of his local union,” Alt, president and chief executive officer to the Buckeye Institute, said in an email. “What he wasn’t happy with was being forced to support a national union that advocated for a partisan agenda with which he disagreed, and now being forced to accept representation he doesn’t want. In filing this case, and others across the country, the Buckeye Institute is calling for an end to the unconstitutional, and unfair, practice of compelled ‘exclusive representation.’ It is time to let them speak for themselves.”
James Thelen, general counsel for the University of Maine System, said he was served with the complaint Monday and had not yet determined a defense.
“We’ve noted, however, that there are no allegations that the university acted unlawfully,” he said Wednesday in an email. “Instead, the plaintiff asserts that the university system is following state labor relations law that he claims to be unconstitutional. That’s a matter for the federal courts to decide.”
Levy has asked the Maine Attorney General’s Office to weigh in on the case. It has not yet responded.
The Associated Faculties of the University of Maine through the Maine Education Association represents Reisman and other faculty and employees at the system’s seven universities.
Reisman is asking U.S. District Judge Jon Levy to issue a preliminary injunction ordering the union to stop representing people who are not members because Reisman is most likely to win his case on its merits.
The lawsuit is being paid for by the Buckeye Institute in Columbus, Ohio.
Founded in 1989, the institute describes itself as an independent think tank “whose mission is to advance free-market public policy in the states.” The institute in July launched the Workers Choose campaign to help people withdraw from their government unions.
It has filed similar lawsuits in Ohio and Minnesota, representing educators.
Reisman declined to comment on the case but filed a declaration with the lawsuit outlining his opposition to positions taken by the union. They include decisions to spend dues money:
— to oppose the election of Gov. Paul LePage in 2010 and 2014.
— to support referenda that raised Maine’s minimum wage and a 3 percent surtax on high income households.
— to oppose school choice and charter school initiatives.
— to support Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.
“I am restricted from speaking on my own behalf or petitioning the government on my own behalf by virtue of the union’s designation as my exclusive bargaining unit,” he said in the declaration.
Reisman has been active in the Republican Party in Maine. He ran in 1998 against John Baldacci in the 2nd Congressional District and lost. Reisman also has served as selectman in Cooper.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly explained the U.S. Supreme Court decision that gives employees a right to not be represented by a union whose political activities they disagree with.