State workers have rights to picket

Letter to the editor

Posted: Monday, May 16, 2005

This is my own opinion and concerns the issue of freedom of speech. My opinion in no way reflects upon the authority or integrity of my employer. I recall the Juneau Empire article Thursday, May 5, "Protesters: Ice Cream Can't Buy State Workers' Love. "Art Chance, the state's director of the Division of Labor Relations, tried to force the protesters to leave the building, but gave up shortly after (Bruce) Ludwig claimed it was their First Amendment right. 'We don't let anybody solicit in here, and they know it.' Chance said. 'It's one more example of state employees thinking they are special and the rules don't apply to them.'"

Although I was not present on that day, this matter concerns me, a United States citizen. Did Art Chance, director of the Division of Labor Relations, have the authority to evict a group of citizens from the main foyer of the State Office Building because they were, as he stated, "soliciting?" The stated mission of the Division of Labor Relations (taken from their own Web site) "... is to achieve the purposes of the Public Employment Relations Act by acting as the executive branch representative in contract negotiations and contract administration matters." Note: There is a period at the end of that sentence.

In Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88 (1940), the United States Supreme Court held that orderly union picketing informing the public of issues is protected by the constitutional freedom of speech and the right of peaceable assembly and cannot be prosecuted under state loitering and picketing laws. This ruling goes into much greater detail, and leaves no room for states, by virtue of laws or regulations, to obstruct or circumvent a fundamental constitutional right.

Let us accept purely for the sake of argument that Thornhill v. Alabama does not apply in this instance, because the location, the main foyer of a public building, is located on and within premises owned and managed by the State of Alaska. I believe the issue of freedom of speech is not settled by the argument. Nor is the issue of whether Director Art Chance has such broad authority. Perhaps it is a matter for the judiciary? At its simplest level in my opinion, it is a matter between the manager of the State Office Building, and a group of citizens.

Jack OBrien


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