Maine Professor:  Union Doesn’t Speak For Me, and Shouldn’t Get My Money

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A Maine professor disgusted with a left-wing public-employee union is suing to try to force the state university system to stop recognizing the union as representing him and to stop deductions from his paycheck from going to the union.

Jonathan Reisman, a tenured associate professor of economics and public policy at the University of Maine at Machias, doesn’t belong to the union and says he doesn’t agree with the political stands the union has spent money on in recent years, including opposing Maine Republican Governor Paul LePage in 2010 and 2014 and supporting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.

Reisman, in a complaint in federal court, cites a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in arguing that what the state university system is doing violates the federal constitution.

On June 27, the federal Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees that “States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees.”

The high court cited the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, saying that forcing public employees to pay money to a union they don’t agree with politically amounts to “compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of public concern.”

Going forward, the Supreme Court said, “Neither an agency fee nor any other pay­ment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”

Yet that’s what the state of Maine is doing now, Reisman argues, through a state statute.

“Maine law authorizes a union and public university to deduct an agency fee from public employees who are not members of the unit to fund the union’s ‘representational activities’ …” Reisman’s complaint states. “This provision is now plainly unconstitutional in light of Janus.”

An existing agreement between the union and the state university system provides that the university will deduct from employees covered by collective bargaining a “Representation Fee” once a month “at an amount specified by” the union in order to cover “the costs associated with the negotiation and continued administration of this Agreement and the legal requirement that the [union] represent all bargaining unit members.”

Reisman ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives in Maine’s Second District in 1998. He formerly served as a selectman in Cooper, a town of about 154 residents about 25 miles north of Machias. Both towns are in northeastern Maine, near the coast.

In court papers, he describes disagreements he has with the union both on and off campus.

As to the world at large, Reisman cites various public policy decisions the union has taken “that are contrary to my conscience and beliefs,” including:

  • Raising the state’s minimum wage
  • Imposing a 3 percent surtax on high-income earners in the state
  • Opposing school choice and charter schools
  • Supporting what Reisman calls “various ‘social justice’ issues”

But the professor says he also doesn’t want the union representing him in matters pertaining to the workplace.

“I oppose numerous of the positions that the Union has taken on my behalf, relating to, among other things, wages, hours, and conditions of employment,” Reisman said in an affidavit.

Yet because of state law governing unions, Reisman’s complaint says, he “has no meaningful avenue to negotiate his own terms and conditions of employment with the University.”

The complaint asks the court to invalidate a Maine statute that establishes a union as the exclusive representative of employees of the state’s universities and to quash an existing agreement between the union and the state university system. The professor is also seeking an injunction prohibiting the state university system “from recognizing the Union as [Reisman’s] exclusive representative” and “from affording preferences to members of the Union.”

The lawsuit names as defendants the union:  The Associated Faculties of the University of Maine, which is affiliated with the Maine Education Association and the National Education Association; Reisman’s school:  the University of Maine at Machias; and the larger entity that oversee his school:  the Board of Trustees of the University of Maine System.

A spokesman for the union could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to the Bangor Daily News, James Thelen, general counsel for the University of Maine System, said in an email message that “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.”

The lawsuit was filed this past August 10 in U.S. District Court in Maine.