Judge dismisses Maine professor's suit objecting to union's support for Democratic causes
BANGOR (BDN) -- A federal judge Monday dismissed a lawsuit from a University of Maine at Machias professor who objected to the faculty union’s use of dues money to support Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns and a minimum wage hike, and to oppose Gov. Paul LePage’s gubernatorial campaigns.
Jonathan Reisman, 62, of Cooper in August sued the union, his university and the University of Maine System Board of Trustees in U.S. District Court in Bangor.
Reisman, who is not a member of the union, challenged the constitutionality of the University of Maine System Labor Relations Act based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Janus vs. the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, issued in June.
In its 5-4 ruling in that 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 the union. The court found that such laws violate the First Amendment by compelling workers to support unions with whose actions they might disagree.
U.S. District Judge Jon Levy found that the because the union representing employees in the statewide university system was democratically elected and not appointed by the university system’s Board of Trustees, the Janus case didn’t apply. Levy dismissed the lawsuit because Reisman’s attorneys failed to state a claim on which the court could grant relief.
“And by authorizing the union, in its role as the agent for the bargaining unit, to negotiate with the board on matters related to the terms and conditions of employment, the act does not cloak the union with the authority to speak on issues of public concern on behalf of employees, such as Reisman, who do not belong to the union,” Levy wrote. “Reisman remains free to speak out in opposition to the union and its positions as he sees fit. His constitutional challenge to the act thus rests on a fundamental misconception.”
Levy also said the union acts not as Reisman’s personal agent but as the representative of the bargaining unit.
Reisman’s attorney, Robert Alt of the Buckeye Institute, said Tuesday the decision would be appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court in Boston.
Founded in 1989, the Columbus, Ohio-based 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.
“The Janus decision raised serious questions about the constitutionality of exclusive representation — questions which the U.S. Supreme Court needs to resolve,” Alt said. “On Tuesday, the Buckeye Institute asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge to exclusive representation arising out of Minnesota.
“We will also appeal the unfortunate decision by the district court in Maine, and intend to fight for Professor Reisman’s rights all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said. “Forcing hard-working public servants to engage in speech with which they disagree is unfair, unconstitutional, and un-American.”
Dan Demeritt, director of public affairs for the University of Maine System, said in an email that the decision affirmed the system is abiding by the law.
“To ensure public accountability to Maine taxpayers, the University System’s most important stake in this litigation is to ensure that it follows Maine law,” he said. “Judge Levy’s decision to dismiss Professor Reisman’s complaint against UMS and its codefendants affirms that UMS has done so in managing its relationship with its faculty union.”
Reisman, who has been active in Maine’s Republican Party, ran in 1998 against then-U.S. Rep. John Baldacci 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. They included decisions to spend dues money to:
- Oppose the election of Gov. Paul LePage in 2010 and 2014;
- Support referendums that raised Maine’s minimum wage and a 3 percent surtax on high-income households;
- Oppose school choice and charter school initiatives; and
- Support Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016.