New Lawsuit Argues Active Duty National Guard Members Should Be Able to Unionize

Several labor unions filed a lawsuit Monday saying Connecticut National Guard members on active state duty should be able to organize just like civilian state employees.

The four organizations are Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Connecticut Police and Fire Union, the National Association of Government Employees and the Civil Service Employees International Union Local 2001.

They filed this lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice.

According to an Associated Press report, a 1978 federal law makes members of the armed forces forming or joining a labor organization a criminal felony.

However, the four organizations and their representatives from Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School are arguing that this only applies to service members on active federal duty, not active state duty.

The lawsuit aims to clarify this distinction. The organizations want confirmation that the Connecticut National Guard could unionize without facing criminal charges.

Christopher Albani, a former member of the 103rd Civil Engineer Squadron in East Granby, Connecticut, gave a statement to the AP saying they want the same opportunities to unionize that civilian organizations get.

"When we're on state active duty, we are proud to help our home state respond to natural disasters, public health crises and other emergencies," Albani said. "We just wish we had the same opportunity to join together as do the civilian state employees alongside whom we work."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Connecticut National Guard
Labor unions have sued for the Connecticut National Guard's right to unionize. Above, a National Guard soldier takes a phone call as he stands next to high-water rescue trucks while he waits for his fellow soldiers in a supermarket parking lot before the arrival of Hurricane Henri in East Lyme, New London, Connecticut, on August 21. Photo by Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

Maj. David Pytlik, a spokesperson for the Connecticut National Guard, declined to comment on the lawsuit's claims, but said in a statement that the Guard has no "bearing on the court's interpretation of Federal law."

The office of Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont declined to comment on the suit, which was filed in federal court in Connecticut. Messages seeking comment were also sent to the Justice Department.

The Connecticut National Guard has been called to state duty several times over the past two years. Members have helped with cleanup efforts after major storms, aided police in response to protests and served during the state's response to the coronavirus, including setting up field hospitals and distributing supplies during the early days of the pandemic.

"Yet Guard members were not able to bargain over COVID-19 safety precautions, even though the state employees they worked directly alongside were able to have a voice in COVID-19 testing, shift safety, and other necessary precautions," said Jody Barr, a former National Guard member and current executive director of Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union with 30,000 members in Connecticut.

Council 4 is one of the four unions that filed the lawsuit, along with the Connecticut Police and Fire Union, the National Association of Government Employees and the Civil Service Employees International Union Local 2001.

Grace Judge, a law student intern at Yale's Veterans Legal Services Clinic, said the lawsuit appears to be the first litigation over the federal law barring military members from unionizing.