Superior Court Judge Thomas A. Matthews said no to the Alaska State Employees Association, which was trying to force the State of Alaska to send more than half of the state workforce home.
ASEA had asked for a Temporary Restraining Order to effectively require the State of Alaska to close state offices and send roughly one half of the state’s workforce home. ASEA, in its request, did not concern itself with the impact of what would be a major disruption to government and how the public would be put at risk if workers were ordered to stay home during a global pandemic emergency.
Applauding the trial court’s order, Attorney General Kevin Clarkson said, “Judge Matthews recognized that government power regarding how to address the COVID-19 pandemic, while continuing to maintain essential state services, is entrusted to the Governor and not the judiciary. The State of Alaska is doing all it can to ensure the safety of our valued state employees.”
“As noted by Judge Matthews in the court’s order, the issues faced by Governor Dunleavy’s administration in the ever-changing face of this pandemic are daunting, and the situation is ‘like trying to fly an airplane at the same time you’re building it.’ These are unprecedented times and we must all step up to do what we can to get through this pandemic, while still keeping the State functioning to provide essential services to Alaskans.”
The Superior Court heard the matter on an expedited basis. The court ordered a telephonic status/pretrial conference for April 6, 2020 at 3 pm.
In filing the lawsuit, Executive Director of the AFSCME Jake Metcalfe stated:
Our contract guarantees employees safety and security in the workplace. A pandemic does not mean that our contract goes out the window. This is when it is especially important that we look out for everyone’s health and safety due to the high rate of transmission of this virus. We aren’t asking for state government to shut down – we’re asking that non-essential staff who are able to work from home, to be given that permission – and for critical staff who must continue to work, to have the ability to practice proper social distancing and to have access to hand sanitizer and other cleaning products for wiping down shared surfaces. We’re also asking for relief from delays in processing telework agreements and for paid administrative leave for employees who can work from home but are waiting for logistics to get worked out. We know this is complicated, this isn’t anything any of us were prepared for – but it’s critical that we work together to look out for the health and safety of all Alaskans which means requiring as much as your workforce as possible to work from home.
But for many departments, nearly half of the State workforce is already working from home, and those who work in Corrections, Public Safety, and child protection, among others, must continue to interact with clients and the public. The State departments are implementing precautions, but none are sufficient for Metcalfe.