UMaine At Machias Professor Sues Union

Aug 25, 2018

A University of Maine at Machias professor has filed a lawsuit against the union that represents him, claiming that he doesn’t agree with its political positions and should be freed from his mandatory membership.

Jonathan Reisman's complaint and request for injunctive relief names the Associated Faculties union of the University Of Maine, an affiliate of the Maine Education Association, and the University and the System’s Board Of Trustees. In it, Reisman cites a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling, “Janus vs. the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees,” in which a divided court concluded that states cannot compel government employees to contribute fees to unions that, in turn, may donate money to causes or campaigns that the worker does not support. But in Maine, state law dictates that the Associated Faculties Union must represent Reisman, regardless of whether he's in the union or not.

Robert Alt, president and CEO of the Buckeye Institute which is funding Reisman’s federal lawsuit, says that requirement is inconsistent with the Janus case ruling.

"Professor Reisman, previously, was the grievance officer for his union, and after Janus he went ahead, resigned his membership, which he finally could and no longer be forced to pay union dues or agency fees after the Supreme Court decision in Janus, but he still had concerns," Alt says.

Alt says Reisman's concerns are justified. Maine law designates the faculty union as his exclusive representative, and Alt says that that requirement restricts Reisman from speaking out when he disagrees with positions taken by either the faculty union or its affiliate, the MEA. For example, he points to the union’s opposition to Gov. Paul LePage, its support of an increased minimum wage and its opposition to school choice and charter schools.

"He is forced to associate with certain aspects of their speech,” Alt says. “He's forced to be represented by that union in negotiations, and he's forced to adhere to the positions they end up taking on his behalf, even if he disagrees with those. We believe that that is a violation of his First Amendment rights."

Reisman is asking Bangor U.S. District Court Judge Jon Levy to issue a preliminary injunction to prevent the union from representing employees who are not union members.

In a prepared statement, James Thelen, general counsel for the University of Maine System, says that UMS was served with Reisman's complaint Monday and has not yet determined an appropriate defense. Thelen also says there were no allegations that the University acted unlawfully, and that the matter would have to be decided in federal court.

Representatives of the union could not be reached for comment.

For disclosure, the Maine Education Association represents most of the reporting staff at Maine Public Radio.

Originally published August 25, 2018.