Public employee unions begin shakedown just in time for budget talks?




As I read Charles Wohlforth’s piece in the Anchorage Daily News about Alaska Psychiatric Institute being an unsafe place to work, I felt a twinge of regret to see the passing of my legacy.

The last time communists — excuse me, Democrats — ran State government, Mark Boyer, Gov. Tony Knowles’ first commissioner of Administration, swaggered — or waddled — into our office and announced that he’d campaigned with the unions for the commissioner’s job and had promised them he would fire us all and replace us with people acceptable to the unions.

I said, “Let us know how that turns out” and walked out, but you can only work for people you hate for so long. I put my affairs in order and went to work for the Legislature with Commissioner Boyer’s misery as my main mission.

A few years later Boyer was gone and they hired me back to end the misery and fix the mess they’d made.

I had two charges: End the State’s embarrassing and expensive string of arbitration losses and, in the words of my new commissioner, “Get ASEA out of my buildings and off my back.”

ASEA — the Alaska State Employees Association — in those days was into guerilla theater. Their stock-in-trade was mau-mauing State managers.

Even before Wohlforth, they had ready access to the Democrats’ propaganda organ, the Anchorage Daily News. They would start with something in “The Ear.” 

Art Chance

Then there’d be an article posing as news about a “poll” they’d done about how unhappy the employees at the division of widget-making were.

Then, there would be a poll about how terrible those loyal, dedicated employees thought the supervisors and managers of the department of widget making were, and how unfair and uncaring the State was.

Sometimes it would come to singing songs and carrying signs outside the offices of the department of widget-making or even outside the supervisor of widget-making’s house.

Those were the days when the State’s primary labor relations manual became Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.”

As Wohlforth’s screed in the ADN last week demonstrates, ASEA is back in the State’s buildings and back on a manager’s back; it’s been almost 20 years, but they’re fully in charge again.

Now, I’m not arguing about that woman’s claim to have been injured at API.  To keep body and soul together and pay for college, I once worked in a mental institution.  I have a very nice scar above my left eye from the head of a push broom in a pillow case that a recently admitted drunk in detox swung at me.

We carried hypodermic needles with 1200 mg of Thorazine in our shirt pockets; beat the hell out of having to beat hell out of them, or have them beat hell out of you.

It isn’t an easy way to make a living and nobody should do it very long.   I stayed at it long enough to become a supervisor.   When my new hires first came on they talked about helping people; after a few months they talked about euthanasia.

What I don’t get is why ASEA is doing it.  They own the government. Vince Beltrami, president of the AFL-CIO installed the Walker Administration and ASEA’s Jim Duncan is his second in command and largest single source of dues income.  ASEA can get anything it wants from the Administration.

The woman at issue has Workers’ Comp and ASEA health insurance. The State almost never controverts Workers’ Comp claims. If there are inordinate safety risks at API, the commissioner of Labor is the former union rep for the union that represents the DOSH investigators. ASEA represents the support staff, and even the supervisors are in an AFL-CIO union.

The department of Health and Social Services at one time had a bad reputation for retaliating against employees who cause trouble, but that pretty much ended when they lost their independent human resources and labor relations authority back in the Murkowski Administration. They have more independence now, but their human resources head is a former State labor relations hand, who knows the law and the game.

So just what is ASEA’s game? They don’t need a grievance procedure or a newspaper article; they have everybody who is anybody in the Administration on speed dial.

Sometimes these things are nothing more than a shakedown: “Give us some money and we’ll leave you alone.” But this doesn’t seem like a good time to be asking the Legislature for a budget increase.

Or, maybe the Walker Administration has reached the point in only three years that it took the Knowles Administration six years to figure out; it is hard to run an organization and stay friends with the unions, especially when they think they own you.

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. He only writes for Must Read Alaska when he’s banned from posting on Facebook. Chance coined the phrase “hermaphrodite Administration” to describe a governor who is simultaneously a Republican and a Democrat. This was a grave insult to hermaphrodites, but he has not apologized.


  1. Art,

    Thanks for your commentary and perspective. Your history lesson is worth learning.

    In the meantime, wear your flack jacket and perhaps consider using Jeff Landfield as your food taster, just in case.

    • Like the old Willie Nelson song about Pancho Villa; “all the federalis say, they could have had him anyway.” They never got me, and it damned well wasn’t for lack of trying. Having Jeff as a food taster is intriguing, though.

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