Employee union thinks it runs Alaska Psychiatric Institute



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.

Art Chance

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.


  1. Art,
    If API lost its accreditation, what would have happened to API’s employees then? Would they have lost their jobs?
    It seems to me that if ASEA was really that concerned about their union members, the ASEA president or board could have stepped in long before now and helped solve the issues. Weren’t some of their members the same workers that quit and sent anonymous letters to the media regarding the poor working environment?

    • In my 18 years of dealing with ASEA I only saw them “step in” to solve a problem one time and that was in the first bargaining and they were represented by National rather than local staff that was probably as sick of their 40 member bargaining team of malcontents and miscreants as we were and just wanted to get the bargaining over with. We’d been told by Gov. Cowper to get it over with but don’t give anything we didn’t absolutely have to and try to get us some negotiated cost containment measures in employee health insurance.

      We told them that they simply were not going to see a dime on a paycheck unless and until we got some HI concessions. They had not had a general increase in five years at the time. Actually most of the deal was made on cocktail napkins at the Captain Cook and we put in a system of co-pays and deductibles that has basically held to this day in keeping the State’s basic HI plan one of the least expensive premium level plans in the State. The Knowles Administration stupidly let ASEA go off into their own trust, but the plan that most other State employees are on is still based on those bargained changes back in ’90 or so.

      You never know when ASEA members start sending letters to the media and such; as often as not it is just a propaganda operation. A year or two ago they got all exercised about their poor abused API employees just at the time the Legislature was considering the DHSS/API budget. As soon as they got another of Walker’s give away DHSS budget, the issue disappeared, and that is the way it usually worked.

      • Addendum: I didn’t answer your first question. If API had lost its certification and could no longer function, if it had an appropriation it could have just paid the employees to come in and play checkers; hopefully it wouldn’t have but things like that have happened with other public employers.

        If somebody in management was being responsible, a miraculous event in DHSS, they would have initiated layoff procedures. Few of the job classifications at API exist elsewhere. Some professional and para-professional positions might find positions in Pioneer Homes or Corrections but that will be slim pickings. The Psychiatric Nursing Assistants, the attendants, have similar qualifications to Certified Nursing Assistants and there are jobs in Pioneer Homes for them.

        The only right laid off employees have is recall to a vacant job, so if a job comes vacant a laid off employee has first dibbs on that job. At the turn-over rates even in low-level jobs in today’s economy, it would be a long wait before they got that recall. Probably only the nurses and PAs, if there are any, have a reasonable expectation of getting a recall anytime soon unless the facility regained its accreditation and could begin accepting patients.

  2. Art, thanks for bringing the goods and history. When I first heard of Metcalfe’s lawsuit I nearly shot coffee out my nose. As we know, the position of ASEA ED is where these lib union mouthpieces go to get their one last round of self-importance before they ride off in their 5th wheeler to set up their retirement camp at Shady Pines. Too bad our trifecta is Dunleavy-API-Metcalfe. Gives him something to do for a while I suppose. Is he really that arrogant or is he just not that bright?

  3. Art, wonder if you recall how the Teamsters were brought to heel in 1976, when the Anchorage Daily News got a Pulitzer reporting on Teamsters influence.
    Maybe something similar would rein in ASEA…

    • You could do a thorough probe of ASEA and even if you found bleeding bodies, smoking guns, and piles of cash you couldn’t get it published. Back then the Teamsters’ mob ties and general corruption and thuggishness made them have few open friends in either politics or the media, though politicians were generally happy to take their contributions. Further, the Teamsters had committed the ultimate sin; they’d backed both conservative politicians and positions. The media being leftist isn’t new, they’re just more open about it these days. Here in Alaska while Jess Carr and Jay Hammond weren’t bosom buddies, they weren’t mortal enemies, but the Teamsters here had also committed grievous sins in the Left’s eyes here by opposing the then dominant Ad Hoc Democratic Coalition, a group that had essentially taken control of the Democrat Party and supplanted the “old boys” that had run things since territorial days. The ADN of that day was very sympathetic to the Ad Hoc group, even though the ADN wasn’t leftist enough for them so some of them started an “alternative” paper called “The Alaska Advocate,” the motto of which was a good one: “Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburger.”

      Anyway, the Teamsters had few friends on the Left and only a grudging alliance with the rest of organized labor, so they were an easy target. By the standards of the day, they were no more corrupt than any of the other big construction trades unions, and to my mind less corrupt here than some.

      Today, AFSCME’s money and organization is the blood and sinew of Democrat politics; they SEIU, and NEA/AFT are that money and apparatchik level of the Democrats and provide the muscle and organization to turn out the votes from the various Democrat client groups. Nobody on the Left, including the media is going to attack any of them and nobody on the Right has enough of an audience to mount a meaningful attack. Look have they’ve suppressed the Veritas Project since he took on SEIU’s community organizing front. Democrat AGs brought charges against Veritas for having the audacity to do that.

      You can watch an episode of Hannity when Sarah Carter and Greg Jarrett are on or watch a You Tube interview with Victor Davis Hanson and hear the whole scheme of the attempted coup d’état against President Trump laid out in full detail with supporting evidence, but the only people in America who’ll ever hear it are conservative political junkies; the rest of the Country believes just as strongly today as they did last week that President Trump is a Russian agent in the White House. That won’t change even if AG Barr manages to put some of the conspirators in jail; it will be dismissed as just a Russian plot. So, in today’s political and media climate an expose would only get the writer more hated and would otherwise be like peeing your pants in a dark suit; it would give you a warm feeling and nobody would notice.

    • In the public sector post-Janus, every state is right to work for public employees, but it is going to take years of lawsuits in every union state to make Democrats and unions stop taxing employees of governments to pay for the Democrat Party in order to keep their jobs.

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