By ART CHANCE
It’s been almost 20 years since I last saw anything like Jake Metcalfe’s screed on behalf of the Alaska State Employees Association, AFSCME Local 52, regarding their “legal” actions over the State’s contracting out the management of the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.
I thought we had beaten the childish behavior out of ASEA, and they did pretty much stop behaving like spoiled brats under Jim Duncan, the now-retired executive director of the public employee union. I guess Duncan’s influence on ASEA has faded as mine has faded at the State.
Here’s why it is so easy to despise some public employee unions: Who runs the Alaska Psychiatric Institute is absolutely none of ASEA’s business.
The State could contract with Attila the Hun to administer API. As long has Attila honors the terms of ASEA’s contract, what else he does is none of the union’s business.
The Alaska Constitution may require the State to provide for mental health care but it doesn’t specify how, and ASEA has neither the standing nor the expertise to make a claim.
ASEA has one and only one role: It can negotiate regarding the wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment of the members of the general government bargaining unit of State employees and it can enter into an enforceable written agreement setting out those wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.
The State of Alaska’s programs and policies are, frankly, none of ASEA’s business and its members and agents have no more rights or voice regarding them than any other citizen. Because they are large, loud, and undisciplined they arrogate all sorts of power over policy to themselves and as it is said that celebrities are people who are famous for being famous, ASEA is powerful because some people think they’re powerful.
ASEA prattles on about the need for a cost efficiency study and they’re simply being ignorant or dishonest. There is no requirement for a cost efficiency study unless the contracting out might result in the layoff of general government unit employees. The supervisors’ union, Alaska Public Employees Association, has a similar requirement, but contracting for management that doesn’t result in the layoff of represented employees can be done at the State’s discretion.
The lawsuit is really just guerilla theater, but the unions/Democrats are enjoying some success with these old communist tactics against an administration for the first time in a long time. There is almost nobody in the appointee ranks who has ever even seen conflict and confrontation between the State and its unions, and those few were far down the organizational chart at the time. Today, but a mere handful of people are in the State who were anywhere near the decision-making level the last time there was serious conflict, and none is working for the Executive Branch, nor want to.
We got sued and had unfair labor practice complaints filed against us a lot in Cowper, Hickel, and even early in the Knowles administration.
Myths notwithstanding, we rarely lost the ultimate issue. The State never talks about this stuff, and the unions shout from the rooftops whenever they win one; that’s how myths are born.
I always advised my principals that they could expect to lose on the temporary restraining order and probably on the injunction as well. Few Superior Court judges are well versed in the arcana that is collective bargaining law and they figure the State can wait and can fix anything with money, so they grant the injunction to buy time to make their decision.
Of course when they get a temporary restraining order, the unions scream “We Won, We Won!!” and the media, which knows nothing about this stuff, gives them the lead story telling how the noble union defeated the evil State.
Nobody hears about it when the injunction lapses and when the union ultimately loses the case on the merits.
The State really has only two risks, assuming competent representation from Law, which is not always a safe assumption: a collapse of political will when it is enjoined, or the unions/Democrats finding a judge who wants to be pals with unions/Democrats in the hope of being rewarded a judgeship by a Democrat administration. The latter is especially a risk in a gubernatorial election year, and I’ve had some pretty good cases just sold out from under me.
So, big, bad ASEA is standing out in front of the Dunleavy Administration’s house and threatening to huff and puff and blow the house down. So, far pounding their chests and huffing and puffing has worked pretty well for them. We’ll see if the Administration goes running out of the back of the house again.
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.