Ninth Circuit Sides with Union in Alaska Dues Case

Two professors, Robert Carlson and John Morack, at the University of Alaska, who were non-members of the United Academics that is affiliated with the Am. Fed’n of Teachers, lost their challenge to AFT’s method of collecting agency fees before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Sept. 6. Affirming a lower court, the Ninth Circuit held that AFT’s procedures met the procedural safeguards and standards set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1986 decision Chicago Teachers Local No. 12 v. Hudson. A revised notice and procedure was put in place after the professors challenged the constitutionality of AFT’s dues and agency fee collection procedures under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

Carlson and Morack sued AFT in May 1998, after they were sent a letter warning them that the union was seeking retroactive agency fees and that they would be terminated from their jobs if they failed to complete a dues checkoff authorization form. The professors, represented by the Nat’l Right to Work Legal Def. Fdn., alleged that AFT’s demands violated their constitutional rights by failing to provide the notice and procedural safeguards required by Hudson.

The district court initially found the notice to be illegal under Hudson and concluded that the professors were entitled to nominal damages. While the case was still pending before the district court, however, AFT revised the notices and provided additional information on the allocation of dues and the procedures for challenges. The court found the final notice met the Hudson requirements, rejected additional challenges by the professors, and dismissed their claims for punitive damages and injunctive relief. Affirming the lower court, the Ninth Circuit rejected the professors’ argument that the procedures violated the Hudson requirements by continuing to discriminate against agency fee payors. The procedures set out by the union “provide for a reasonably prompt decision by an impartial decisionmaker,” as required by Hudson, the appeals court said.

Circuit Judge Procter R. Hug, Jr. (Carter) wrote the decision and was joined by Circuit Judge Thomas G. Nelson (H.W. Bush) and District Judge Dean D. Pregerson (C.D. Cal., Clinton) sitting by designation. W. James Young of the NRTWLDF in Springfield, Va., represented the professors, and William Jermain of Jermain, Dunnagan & Owens in Anchorage represented the University of Alaska. [BNA 9/21/01]