Someone has to blink or we shut this government down




Allow me to engage in a fantasy where once again I’m the State’s director of labor relations. I work for a Republican governor who has at least a little courage and we have a State Senate controlled by Republicans who are more interested in governing the state effectively than in getting re-elected or getting a lobbying contract.

We all know how likely all that is.

It is late April, the clock is ticking on the 120-day constitutional limit on the legislative session and there isn’t a hope in Hell that there can be a budget before adjournment.

A May special session has us knocking up against the June 1 deadline for giving layoff notices to State employees, should there not be a budget at midnight June 30.

In this fantasy scenario the only way there can be a budget before June 30 is if the Republican governor and Senate capitulate to the Democrats/unions, or if the governor and Senate can make the Democrats/unions blink.

So, how do I, the labor relations director, make the Democrats/unions blink?

The factual predicate of all this is that they’re under contract, so my tool bag for bringing them to heel is pretty limited.

The only move on the board really is the Queen’s Gambit: A government shutdown for the State is a real shutdown, not the fake media events the federal government stages from time to time.

Now, if I have those conditions I set out in the first paragraph, I threaten the shutdown.

But back to reality: In the current conditions, it is the governor and the Democrat/union House threatening it.

Right now, I’d start talking about how there will be no money for back pay for employees who miss work because of a government shutdown.

Government shutdowns are usually a pretty comfortable thing for public employees; they get some time off and they ultimately get paid for it.

A government shutdown is a paid vacation for government employees that doesn’t even cost them any leave.

In reality a government shutdown is a paid vacation for government employees that doesn’t even cost them any leave.   You have to make it hurt or it is meaningless.

I’ll admit that even with the relatively favorable conditions I set out in my first paragraph, I’m struggling with this because the shutdown threat is just about the only tool I have left in my tool bag.

The only real advantage I have is knowing a shutdown will hurt the unions at least as much as it hurts me.

It doesn’t matter if they make $30,000 or $130,000, State employees have no savings; they live from paycheck to paycheck because they have the confidence of their leave cash-outs and ultimately their SBS and retirement funds.

If you shut it down on July 1, they get one more paycheck for their work for the last two weeks of June and then the wolf starts sitting outside their door — and they’re on the phone to the union in no time.

If you’re a hardball governor and they really do go through with a shutdown, you could make that last paycheck really hard to get as well; it’s a nasty one, but it’s a tool.

I always assumed that the 8,000-odd member General Government Unit couldn’t keep many of their members on strike as soon as the members were told they couldn’t take leave to go on strike, and most of the lower level members have little or no leave; at that level alarm clocks don’t work, cars don’t start, and babysitters don’t show up, so it is hard to have much accrued leave.

So, union leaders are catching Hell from their about-to-be broke members just like politicians are catching Hell because nothing in the State is going to work after 12:01 July 1, 2017.

Rest assured, one is scared and the other is glad of it, and I don’t mind admitting that were I making this play, I’d be scared.

I don’t think there is an elected official in the world who’d go through with this, and union leaders are elected officials too.   A credible threat starting with a plain language statement that if the Democrats/unions shut down the government there will be no money until there is actually a budget and they go back to work is a good start; it actually gives the Republican side a reasonably useful tool.

Right now, they have an empty tool bag.

The governor and the Democrat-controlled House can force the Senate to a standoff that leads to a shutdown, and, folks, unlike the federal government, a State government shutdown is very, very real; the government has almost no authority to operate and Granny might really go over that cliff.

The Senate has already shown that it will move toward the House and the governor; now we’ll find out how far they’ll move to avoid a shutdown.

This game ain’t for sissies.

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 gets kicked off of Facebook now and then for using the word “hermaphrodite” to describe politicians who don’t know what political party they stand with.