ELECTION COMING: AFL-CIO WANTS TO ORGANIZE LOCAL PUBLIC EMPLOYEES
By ART CHANCE
Vince Beltrami, AFL-CIO president for Alaska, is looking for new worlds to conquer.
Vinnie isn’t really a goon, but he’d like everyone to think he is. Even though he comes out of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, he isn’t even a wireman; he’s more of a salesman they recruited for their apprenticeship program.
Once upon a time you had to have at least made some pretense of handling a 135Kv line in the dark while enduring a 50-mph wind to get far in IBEW leadership.
I don’t know that Vinny is such a good political operative or that his opposition has been so inept or oblivious, but he has turned Alaska purple. I’ll give him that.
Now he’s trying to add Seward, Alaska to the AFL-CIO fold.
A March 19 special election in Seward will be held to do just that, and if he succeeds, Vinny will have Seward no longer exempt from the Public Employee Relations Act, so he can organize the public employees.
WARNING: IT GETS KIND OF WONKY FROM HERE
Anchorage and Fairbanks have been union towns since Territorial days. The port towns had some union presence on the docks and ships, but not much else.
Alaska split between longshoremen of the Harry Bridges’ communist West Coast Longshoremen’s Union and the Teamsters, who had more loyalty to Washington, D.C. than to Moscow.
To the extent that public employees bargained at all, it was under local ordinances and the unions were subsidiaries of the trades unions, styled as “joint crafts councils” and the like so that the operation and maintenance employees of public employers weren’t eligible for the out-of-work lists of the construction trades unions.
Juneau had a bit of a reputation for being anti-union in those days. Most of the big money federal work in Alaska in those days was being done by Seattle unions and Outside labor unions that wouldn’t even allow Alaskans to apply for the jobs.
The State was so solidly Democrat that it could only be admitted to the Union concurrently with equally solidly Republican Hawaii to maintain the balance of power in the US Senate.
Fast forward to the late 1960’s and early ’70’s. Alaska was run with liquor’s money, labor’s organization, and Natives’ votes.
The only State employees who were unionized were the vessel employees of the Alaska Marine Highway System. They bargained under AS 23.40.040. That half-page of statutes can best be summarized as “the commissioner of the Department of Highways will do what the Seattle maritime unions want him to do.” The ferry system has been a hole in the water Alaska pours money into for a very long time, but it was thought to be an improvement over privately operated Alaska Steamship Company.
There were beginning to be lots of stress cracks in the Democratic Party at the national level in 1968. The Solid South had abandoned the Democrats in 1964, and since I was there I can say it: It was entirely over race. The South didn’t look to be coming back into the fold anytime soon. The war in Vietnam overwhelmed President Lyndon Johnson, and he didn’t seek re-election, but Hubert Humphrey was too Northern, too liberal, and started too far behind.
Alaska Democrats tried to give public employees a collective bargaining law, but it failed to pass the Legislature. Nixon carried Alaska handily and in another harbinger of things to come, George Wallace got 12 percent of the vote as the American Independence Party (pro-racial segregation) candidate.
By 1972, America was as fractured as it had been since the Civil War. The draft, the war, and the counter-culture drove the Democrats far to the left, at least as left was understood in those days.
With the ascendency of George McGovern as the Democratic nominee for president, Alaska Democrats looked for something — anything — to stay in power. Democrats are one-trick ponies and they’ll do something over and over until it blows up in their faces, so they trotted out another public employee collective bargaining law to try to keep public employees in the Democrat fold.
What became the Public Employment Relations Act (AS 23.40.070 – .260), officially has no legislative history because there was almost no debate. These were the days when laws were made and broken in the long-gone Latchstring Bar at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, and if a committee chairman had a bill number, he or she could put any topic under that bill.
Duane Carlson was “Vinny the Goon” of those days, as head of the AFL-CIO. You can read all you want about Duane in John McPhee’s 1976 classic “Coming Into the Country.”
Duane went to an AFL-CIO meeting in Hawaii, naturally, and he brought back some AFL-CIO “model legislation” for public employee bargaining. He gave it to Sen. Joe Josephson, who introduced it as a committee substitute for some other bill of no relation. As if from the head of Zeus, it emerged fully clothed.
I’ve never found any record of real debate on it, but by 1972 there were Republicans in the Legislature in significant if not majority numbers, and much of the State wasn’t really enamored with unionized public employees.
Then we must consider the Kosloski Amendment. It isn’t actually in the Public Employment Relations Act but in the Session Law. It allows a political subdivision of the State to opt out from coverage by the PERA so long as the political subdivision doesn’t do it in the face of and to escape from a union organizing campaign.
Old timers sometimes call this the Petersburg Amendment because it was a current controversy in Petersburg. The Petersburg Amendment is why many political subdivisions do not have unionized employees or only allow unionization under their own local ordinance.
BACK TO THE ELECTION AT HAND
Now we’re back to Beltrami and the public employees of Seward, Alaska, the voters, and the March 19 special election.
Seward doesn’t have a local bargaining law and long ago opted out from the Public Employment Relations Act. Vinny is tooling up his PAC and his hordes to overturn Seward’s opt-out so he can unionize Seward’s public employees.
Fear and greed are good politics in Alaska so a promise of a union getting you “free stuff” plays pretty well.
I don’t know Seward politics, but in most places it is easy to get police and fire personnel to become union under the Public Employment Relations Act because of its arbitration provisions.
The State does well enough in arbitration when it wants to, meaning the State can hold its own if the union hasn’t bought the governor.
But the political subdivisions have been mau-maued by the unions in arbitration; the unions have eaten their lunches and taken their girlfriends.
It takes real money and serious skill to adequately represent the employer in interest arbitration with a police or fire union, particularly when your comparables are Washington, Oregon, and California. I was pretty good at it, but I’m also one of only a mere handful of people who’ve ever even seen adversarial interest arbitration from the first chair and all the others either worked with or for me.
So, the unions are continuing their tour through the municipalities. So long as political subdivision elections are held when the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter lies with Mars, these special elections will be dominated by unions. The Democrats/unions cannot win a Statewide election and there are only a handful of districts in which a Democrat who actually talks and acts like a Democrat can win a district election. Yet, they control most municipalities and boroughs in the state.
The conclusion is obvious. When conservatives/Republicans can get control away from communists and quislings, we need to make the General Election Day in November the ONLY Election Day in Alaska.
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.