By ART CHANCE
The Left and State employees recoiled in shock when the Dunleavy Administration asked for the resignations of several hundred exempt and partially exempt employees as it took office.
Even though they took a lot of criticism for the initial resignation requests, the Administration actually only acted on a handful of them. The last I heard, it was only a hundred or so.
The moral of that story is you get as much criticism for a little as you do for a lot, so always go for a lot.
Some on the Left said that I was behind the resignation requests, and, yes, I am on record as advocating that any Republican taking over from a Democrat should dismiss everyone who they have a colorable legal right to dismiss.
Dunleavy people might have read my book or some of my writing, but the way you can tell that I had nothing to do with it is that I would have known which employees I had a legal right to fire and I would have fired them all; in for a penny, in for a pound.
The Dunleavy Administration didn’t fire many of the partially exempt assistant attorneys general, although they did fire one of the better known ones, Libby Bakalar, and she’s suing them over it.
Partially-exempt employees are as close to “at will” employees as the State has, although they’re not truly at will. I’ve had some pretty good Facebook arguments with lawyers and guardhouse lawyers about the notion that exempt and partially exempt employees are at will and can be dismissed “just because.” They can’t.
At minimum if you dismiss one, a Superior Court judge is going to be able to substitute his/her judgment for yours, and you may find yourself taking a fireproof employee back. These are fights you don’t start unless you have the will and the time to get the case to the Supreme Court.
The Administration sowed the wind with the resignation requests and now they’re reaping the whirlwind. Right now, the Alaska State Employees Association has an organizing drive going among the State’s assistant attorneys general. In the current state of Alaska’s public sector labor law and practice, there is nothing to stop them.
Back in the Frank Murkowski Administration, a deputy commissioner and I were only half-jokingly talking about organizing all of the Murkowski Administration’s appointees below Commissioner into “Art and Kevin’s Union,” because we thought it would be fun for Sarah Palin, who hated all things Murkowski, to have to deal with the cause and process provisions of a union contract to get rid of all of us.
We weren’t serious but the threat is.
It wouldn’t be the end of the world if some of the assistant attorneys general became union; they’re researchers, writers, and briefcase toters. That’s the reason you have to be so careful considering them to be at will employees. But some of the higher level assistant attorneys general are intimately involved in policy-making and in effecting policy, and it would be really important to have your own attorneys in those positions.
A conversation I’ve had with lots of political principals was admonishing them to think about what the other guy might do with that new toy they wanted. Ask Harry Reid how he feels about “the nuclear option” on Supreme Court justices now that it is President Donald Trump appointing them and a Republican Senate confirming them.
This is another example of how confident, even audacious, the unions/Democrats have become. Keeping the Department of Law’s professional staff out of the union orbit was a Hammond Administration initiative and the unions haven’t challenged it in now nearly 40 years – until now.
The State can defeat the organizing drive, but doing so goes to the very heart of the Public Employment Relations Act and just which public employees are granted collective bargaining rights.
That’s a battle to the Supreme Court and since it involves the lawyers in the Department of Law, the State is going to need outside counsel to pursue the matter.
I tried to take some employees out of bargaining during the Hickel Administration and won before the Alaska Labor Relations Agency. Law stalled and sandbagged on the way to court, let the venue get changed from Juneau to Ketchikan away from prying eyes, and then managed to conveniently lose the case. Then the Knowles Administration sold the appeal to the unions.
I firmly believe the Department of Law cannot be trusted to defend the Administration or the State’s interests in such a dispute.
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.