October 23, 2019
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Maine university professor loses appeal opposing faculty union representation

Courtesy of the University of Maine at Machias
Courtesy of the University of Maine at Machias
Jonathan Reisman.

A federal appeals court on Friday rejected arguments made by a University of Maine at Machias professor that a state law designating the faculty union as his representative in collective bargaining negotiations violated his First Amendment rights.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston upheld a 2018 decision from U.S. District Court Judge Jon Levy in Bangor dismissing a complaint from Jonathan Reisman of Cooper, who sought a preliminary injunction to prohibit the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine from representing faculty members not associated with the union.

An attorney for Reisman said he plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reisman, a professor of economics and public policy at the Machias campus who is not a member of the union, in August 2018 sued the union, the university and the University of Maine System board of trustees. He resigned his membership in the union over disagreements about its policy and political positions.

Reisman challenged the constitutionality of the University of Maine System Labor Relations Act in light of a June 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Janus v. the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, that struck down a 1977 decision that allowed states to require public employees to pay fees to unions that represent them, even if workers choose not to join a union.

Reisman contended that the 1975 state law designating the union as the “sole and exclusive bargaining agent” for university faculty violated his First Amendment rights to free speech and free association by compelling him to associate with the union and therefore was unconstitutional in light of the Janus decision.

But in the appeals court’s decision, Judge David Barron sided with the union, university and university system in finding that the Maine law is “plainly distinguishable” from Janus as there is “no comparable forced association or speech at issue here.” Barron noted that the state law preserves Reisman’s right to not join the union without fear of discrimination, and to ensure that, the union must bargin on behalf of all employees “without regard to membership in the organization.”

“Considered in context, then, [the statute] is not properly read to designate [the union] as Reisman’s personal representative, as he contends. Rather, that provision merely makes clear that a union, once it becomes the exclusive bargaining agent for a bargaining unit, must represent the unity as an entity, and not only certain of the employees within it, and then solely for the purposes of collective bargaining,” Barron wrote in the decision.

Reisman, who has been active in Maine’s Republican Party, ran in 1998 against then-U.S. Rep. John Baldacci, a Democrat, in the 2nd Congressional District and lost. Reisman also has served as a selectman in Cooper.

In his declaration filed with the lawsuit he outlined his opposition to positions taken by the union and its decision to spend dues opposing Paul LePage in the 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial races and supporting Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, among other positions.

Robert Alt, an attorney with the Ohio-based Buckeye Institute representing Reisman, said in a brief phone interview Thursday morning that the court’s decision was “disappointing” but “not terribly surprising given precedent” in the First Circuit.

But Alt said that precedent rested on “very shaky ground” and that the U.S. Supreme Court has taken a “very jaundiced eye” toward what he called the Maine law’s “compelled speech.”

“We’re confident that when we appeal to the Supreme Court that they will overturn this law,” he said.

He expects to file an appeal to the nation’s top court no later than Jan. 2, 2020.

 



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