Labor

Maine law forces me to accept union misrepresentation

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This piece was first published in the Portland Press Herald.

I am an associate professor at the University of Maine at Machias, where I have taught for 34 years. Until recently, I very proudly served as grievance officer for the Machias chapter of my union: the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine. I enjoyed serving AFUM and colleagues in that capacity.

However, I have since opted out of membership in my union because I could not get out of being associated with its state and national affiliates. I have ultimately had to make the difficult decision to sue for the right to speak for myself even now that I am no longer a member of the union. My first day in U.S. District Court is Wednesday in Portland.

It is a privilege to teach the next generation of young minds and thinkers about the important intersections of political, economic and societal choices, and how they affect and influence our daily lives.

As an educator and economics professor, I have given a great deal of thought to public policy choices, economic incentives and how we educate our children. Naturally, I have well-formed views and opinions – some more strongly held than others – on a wide range of economic and social policies, including, for instance, taxes, wage and price controls, and education.

Unfortunately, on many of these issues, I do not share the opinions of the state and national unions with which AFUM is affiliated: the Maine Education Association and the National Education Association. In fact, those unions have taken the opposite view from me on each and every one of those public policy issues. Most recently, the NEA issued a “social justice” grant to a now-retired University of Southern Maine professor, which was used to fund a trip to Washington promoted as a protest of the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, in violation of University of Maine System political advocacy and academic policies.

Since I am unable to pay dues only to AFUM without also financially supporting the political positions of the MEA and the NEA, I had no choice but to resign my position as grievance officer and end my membership in AFUM.

These differences are not merely academic. They are not trivial pet peeves of mine. These are significant public policy preferences on which these unions and I remain very much at odds.

And yet, under Maine law, the union continues to speak for me on these and countless other issues, standing in as my “exclusive representative.”

Even worse, the state of Maine appoints this same union – as my “sole and exclusive bargaining agent” – to represent me when it speaks to the University of Maine at Machias Board of Trustees regarding my wages, hours and the terms and conditions of my employment. Only the union may legally represent me to the board during my evaluation procedures. The union represents me when it takes positions regarding the collective bargaining agreement that governs significant terms of my employment, such as workload, office hours, the grievance process, wages, benefits, retirement and leaves of absence – without consulting me on my views or opinions on such matters.

The union represents me without my input or consent. And Maine law not only countenances that, but also requires it.

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 27 ruling in Janus, I am not required to pay the union agency fees, but I am still required to subject myself to the union’s unwanted representation and to have it speak for me. And the economic, political and social views that the union champions in the public square are attributed to me as if I shared them. Such requirements and “representation” cannot be squared with basic and constitutional principles of fairness, freedom of speech and freedom of association.

For these reasons, I asked the Buckeye Institute to assist me in filing suit, alongside numerous other public employees across the country, to challenge these unconstitutional laws that allow public unions to speak on behalf of employees like me even as they deny us our own voices. Such laws and coercion do not provide representation, but misrepresentation – and it doesn’t take an advanced degree in economics to know the difference.

About Jonathan Reisman

Jon Reisman teaches environmental policy at the University of Maine in Machias. He holds a B.A. from Colby College (Economics and Environmental Studies), and M.A.'s from Brown University (Economics) and the University of Southern Maine (Public Policy)

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