Art Chance: Unions making policy is nothing new



Many readers have noted the extent to which the teachers’ unions idea of “science” has dictated federal, state and local governments’ policies regarding school closures, masking, and other Covid-related issues. 

There has been quite the kerfuffle lately about how the teachers’ unions got to essentially write the Centers for Disease Control’s national policy on school closures. Allegedly, it went so far as the unions having been able to actually dictate the wording of the policy memorandum issued by CDC.  I have no trouble believing the allegation: I’ve had it done to me. So, read , my friends, and you shall learn the story of what may well be the most expensive memorandum ever produced by state government.

We had a new commissioner and he had hired me. Behind closed doors, his directive to me was to get unions off his back and out of his buildings. I didn’t technically work for the commissioner but rather for a division director who wasn’t privy to my discussions with the commissioner and who would never in a million years have hired me if she’d had a choice.   

The commissioner asked the director for a briefing memo on his rights and duties in dealing with union stewards and non-employee representatives. I assume the commissioner had told her to have me write it because I can’t imagine her assigning it to me of her own volition. One of the most valuable skills at the upper levels of government is being able to work with people who hate each other.

The law was pretty settled; NLRB v. Weingarten (1975) is the controlling authority and Alaska’s bargaining law has the same language as the federal law under which Weingarten had been decided. Alaska had never had any issues with union representation rights. What we were really dealing with was unions trying to preserve ill-gotten gains; the unions had lived a charmed life under Gov. Tony Knowles’ first commissioner of Administration, when the State’s labor policy had essentially been, “ask the unions what they want.”  

By this time, early 2000, even the Democrats had figured out that they couldn’t actually run the government and keep their union allies happy. I was an experienced enough bureaucrat that I wasn’t going to step on a rake, so I gave them a very straightforward, black-letter law memo. There was absolutely nothing extreme or even controversial in it.

I respected State protocol and sent it up the chain through my director to the commissioner. She freaked out, and rather than sending it back to me with edits and comments or sending it on to the commissioner with her comments, she, instead, sent it to the head of the Alaska Communist Party, excuse me, the Alaska State Employees Association, AFSCME Local 52, AFL-CIO.   

He came down to Juneau to discuss it with her and the commissioner.  Even with one of the lefty lawyers from Department of Law in the room, they couldn’t come up with anything that was legally wrong in the memo. They just thought it was too controversial, too aggressive.  Even almost 20 years ago something that a lefty punk didn’t like was considered “too controversial.”

The policy memo didn’t go out. Instead, we adopted the parasite, excuse me, Democrat method of governing; we applied for a grant from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to help us resolve our labor-management relations issues, which were mostly of the feckless administration’s making. This was all under the Clinton Federal Administration and we still had Knowles’ Democrat Administration in Alaska.   We got a half-million dollar grant and the services of a couple of FMCS mediators to facilitate the initial meetings until it could be taken over by local talent. We, though I was as little part of that “we” as I could get away with, put together what was styled Supervisor-Steward Joint Training, which came to be known as Super-Stew Training.

The first big event brought all of the State and ASEA’s professional staff together with a bunch of human resources people and some directors and section managers at the Kenai Princess hotel for two or three days of “collegiality.”  We all flew into Anchorage and took a chartered bus to the Princess. I assume that at that stage of the thing all the costs were going to the grant, but that little party in the Alaskan wilderness cost $100,000 or more. There are some stories that could be told, but gentlemen don’t tell.

It went on until it died of its own weight; nobody cared anymore. We had something like adult leadership in State government as the 2002 election approached and labor relations people could just do their jobs. We had pretty much reined in the Saul Alinskyite disruptions in Juneau and Anchorage and peace seemed to have descended over the land. In the last years of the Knowles Administration they tried to become “born again” Republicans, so we got some peace with the unions.  I believe that the total cost of all those goat-rope “training” sessions all around the State was the better part of a million dollars in federal and State funds.

What you are seeing today at the federal level is just business as usual in a Democrat administration.  Of course the union got to write the policy.  Of course the union knew all about it before it was announced to the public.  I became the head of State Labor Relations in March of 2003.  One of the very first things I did was publish that memo as State policy.  

The million dollar memo remains formal State policy though I don’t know how conscientiously they follow it these days.  

You can see a million dollars of your money here.


  1. To blame the union itself well the union did not take an oath. President of the union took an oath union members took an oath all took an oath of integrity. It is not the union. That broke there oath sold the oath down the river styx say along with there integrity soul and exposed themselves to go down that river now we all see. Time to change the players not the game here you bet. Jesus died for nothing with that integrity imagine facing Jesus knowing.

  2. Other than corruption, I do not understand why public sector unions are allowed to exist. Why is a group of workers allowed unionize against actual taxpayers it is simply insane.

  3. Art, the best about history is we might someday have an opportunity to learn from it, but in the interim we are stuck with them, stuck on repeat, and stuck on stupid.

  4. Wasn’t “Gov. Tony Knowles’ first commissioner of Administration” none other than Mark Boyer of “Moyer and Boyer and Bettye, oh my!” fame? That little gang of Mike Gravel disciples were heads and shoulders above what the Dogmacrats have produced out of Fairbanks in recent decades.

  5. FDR, a thoroughbred leftist, considered public employee unions to be inappropriate. Practically, unions cannot function effectively without competition. That is, UAW must be competitive to help unionized Ford Motor Company compete effectively with non-union Toyota. Corollarily we would need two governments, one union and the other nonunion, competing with each other in order for the union to be effective. In other words, lack of competition perverts the functionality of unions the same as it does business.

  6. Wayne Coogan,
    I agree with you regarding competition between union and non-union work forces. As for the evolution of the Democratic party over the last 7 or 8 decades consider the following.
    During Truman’s Administration the Railroad Workers voted to go out on Strike. During this time almost all freight moved on the rail roads across the country. Truman reportedly summoned the President of the RR workers to his office. According to what I’ve read, Truman told the RR people that they could go out on strike, but they would sure look silly with a squad of Soldiers marching their members to work every morning at gun point! Truman told the RR men that their dispute with the RR companies was not going to shut down the the Country.

  7. I believe it is also lobbyists (recent law school grads, young, attractive new staffers) write specifically phrased, expertly nuanced to NWO parameters also write policy aka Alaska “laws”. Such phony “representation” Wake up Alaskans.

  8. Art, et al,
    This history lesson is appreciated, and needful. The historical lessons of the union movement must include the terrible and intentional abuses of workers, which could only be resolved by the organization of labor and labor laws. (“It is essential that there should be organization of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize.” – Theodore Roosevelt, October 14, 1912, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.) There will always be a tension between any particular employer – private or government – and labor. Power will sometimes corrupt one or both of the parties, just as politicians and government agencies are often corrupted by power. Union members, shareholders, and citizens of good character must therefore maintain a watchful and sharply critical eye on all officialdom.

    • I agree with TR about the collectivization of labor as a counter to the collectivization of capital. I have no issues with compelled bargaining on ‘wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.” I have serious issues with “unions” becoming socialist workers’ political parties and buying governments.

  9. In all fairness, industries do the same thing. Look at the current move here to get rid of certificates of need that have been demonstrated to increase the cost of medical care.

  10. Moreov100-yrser, a memo has been circulating for over 100-yrs now. It says, “communism doesn’t work.” Apparently the vast swarms of leftists haven’t seen it yet.

  11. Moreover, a memo has been circulating for over 100-yrs now. It says, “communism doesn’t work.” Apparently the vast swarms of leftists haven’t seen it yet.

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