By ART CHANCE
As I was researching my column on the AFL-CIO’s war on Alaskans’ Permanent Fund dividend, I discovered something nobody has been talking about: the fix is in for the AFL-CIO to get about the equivalent money as the PFD and energy stipend for their own members, and has it safely ensconced in the operating budget.
While nobody was looking or saying anything, the Dunleavy Administration has been bargaining with State employee unions and has reached agreements with at least some of them. The agreements appear to be on a pattern of a three-year agreement with general wage increases of 3.5% – 2% – CPI capped to 5%.
If you believe the CPI will be less than 5% three years from now, let’s get together and talk about my bridge. That is a 10% general wage increase over the next three years, in addition to the merit or longevity step increases of about 3% per year.
The average wage for a general government employee, one of the units to which this agreement would apply, is about $75,000/year, so that is a $7,500 general wage increase over three years, plus step increases. If the employee is in merit steps, less than five years seniority in the job classification, s/he will get a 3-3.5% increase each year. After five years the employee moves into longevity steps, which are 3% increases at intervals of every two or three years. Nice work if you can get it, but rest assured they all think they’re overworked and underpaid.
The unions don’t like it, but they can’t just buy a governor and get sweetheart deals automatically. The “monetary terms” of an agreement must be reported to and approved by the Legislature, and the Legislature hasn’t always approved. Gov. Bill Sheffield negotiated a deal with most of the unions for the 1984-1986 term that had a 3.6% increase in 1986. The price of oil went in the toilet in 1985 and the Legislature refused to fund that third-year increase; a decade and a half long war ensued.
Prior to the oil price crash, the State’s labor relations policy had generally been to “ask the unions what they want,” and nobody really understood much about the rights and duties of the parties. Gov. Jay Hammond got a little frisky with the supervisors and they went on strike, but it was mostly a charade. Then the marine unions struck and getting them back to work was akin to “The Ransom of Red Chief.” Nobody wanted to play rough with unions after that but in the mid-80s the State had to, and first it had to learn how.
State bargaining is controlled by the Public Employment Relations Act (AS 23.40.070-260). Section 215 of PERA set out the Legislature’s authority over monetary terms and the process by which the Administration was to report the monetary terms. I don’t recall the precise terms of the commissioner of Administration’s report in 1984, but in the critical year, 1986, the Sheffield Administration asked for a supplemental appropriation to support the wage increases called for by the agreements. The Legislature refused to pass the supplemental, and the Supreme Court held that the refusal constituted the disapproval action authorized by Section 215.
We kept an uneasy peace during the Steve Cowper Administration, basically one was scared and the other was glad of it. During that uneasy peace, we who came to State labor relations during the Cowper Administration got very busy trying to figure out how to work that PERA thing.
During the Hickel Administration, one of the things we concentrated on was figuring our what Section 215 required. I wrote a briefing memo late in the Hickel Administration that set out our best understanding of the rights and duties of the parties. That memo served as a “how-to” manual during Hickel and became a “how to work around it” manual in the Tony Knowles Administration.
The work around culminated when the Knowles Administration “worked with” the Legislature to revise Section 215 in such a way as to render it incomprehensible. During my tenure as Director of Labor Relations during the Murkowski Administration I negotiated 28 discrete labor agreements including full three-year agreements for the last three years of the Administration. I did it the old-fashioned way with a detailed report of all the monetary terms to each body of the Legislature and we put a separate line in the budget for the cost of the terms of each agreement. I don’t remember if the Legislature ever took an approval action on the report but they did approve the appropriations, which had the same legal effect.
After the Frank Murkowski Administration, I don’t think any action was taken on monetary terms reports, and costs of labor agreements were just included as increments in budget requests. I doubt this comports with the Legislature’s intent in enacting Section 215, but the Alaska Supreme Court has concluded that approval of the budget is sufficient.
I don’t think the Gods in Black Robes really considered the mischief that could be done by just hiding labor agreement costs deep in the operating budget.
So, now that you’ve had a crash course in the PERA that you didn’t sign up for, the heart of the matter is this: The AFL-CIO can make a kill shot on the PFD for people who lost work and lost jobs and businesses during the scamdemic, because with either the acquiescence or complicity of the Dunleavy Administration, they have baked a payment of even more money into the operating budget that is to go to the people who never missed a day’s pay during the scamdemic.
Let’s see which legislators vote for what. If they did not vote for the full PFD and the energy stipend but vote for the operating budget, you know they bought into the fix and they don’t represent the people but rather the special interests.
Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon.