Tshibaka: State has made numerous concessions; IBU has dug in - Must Read Alaska
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Tshibaka: State has made numerous concessions; IBU has dug in

By KELLY TSHIBAKA
COMMISSIONER, DEPARTMENT OF ADMINISTRATION

The Department of Administration, of which I serve as commissioner, is responsible for negotiating state worker union contracts. We take that responsibility very seriously. Our goal is to negotiate fair labor contracts that help our State of Alaska employees build better lives for themselves, while also serving the best interests of their fellow Alaskans.

Our team at the DOA, and those that preceded this Administration, have made every effort to address the Inland Boatmen’s Union’s demands without further compounding our State’s ballooning deficit.

In fact, since December 2016, the State has met with IBU representatives over 40 times. We believe it would be a dereliction of our duty, both to unions and Alaskans, for us to enter into a bargaining agreement that would benefit one union in the short-term but would further imperil the well-being of all Alaskans (including the IBU) in the long-term.

The State has faced several hurdles during negotiations with IBU representatives from California, including the IBU’s demands for wage increases at rates that are untenable in this fiscal climate and impermissible under Alaska law. The other Marine unions, whose members work alongside IBU employees, did not ask for such demands; they seem to better understand Alaska’s dire fiscal situation—and care about it! Labor unions are supposed to help their employees secure fair pay, not preferential pay.

During 20 hours of mediation last weekend, IBU brought in negotiators from California who don’t seem to understand Alaska laws. They repeatedly sent wage offers that are not legally permissible or feasible. Anyone who knows Alaska law and the legislative process would have known better.

IBU has yet to give the State a proposal that is legally allowed.

IBU notified the State it would strike over a provision regarding Union dues payment and collection that conflicts with the free speech protections guaranteed to all IBU-represented employees by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. This is illegal.

IBU’s illegal strike began based on demands that all non-resident employees receive the same salary value as Alaskan employees. Alaska law (AS 23.40.210), however, requires that any agreement include a pay plan that provides for a cost-of-living differential between the salaries paid to Alaskan employees and non-resident employees. The IBU was demanding that the State accept this and violate the law. This is illegal.

IBU amended these provisions after the State informed the union that these provisions would render its strike illegal. But amending those illegal provisions after the strike was announced does not magically erase the illegal basis for striking in the first place. Under law, the IBU is obligated to end the strike and reach a deal.

The State has made numerous concessions to IBU, including four package proposals that granted some of IBU’s important requests, such as a 3-year deal and a wage increase, but IBU refused to change its illegal offer. The State proposed IBU employees contribute to their health care plan.

But the IBU agreed only if the State provided a “bonus” that covered the cost of premiums and paid members more than $700,000 extra for their trouble. That’s not a compromise. That’s an outrage!

The State also offered the IBU an ability for employees to return to work, without disciplinary action for striking, while we continue to negotiate the contract so the employees would be able to make money. The IBU refused to sign it.

Since the illegal strike began on Wednesday, July 24, the State of Alaska has lost nearly $3 Million of revenue in AMHS passenger ticket refunds. Our coastal communities, businesses and citizens have incurred millions of dollars in costs related to loss of visitor traffic, alternative transportation, and unexpected lodging. The strike has shut down a major transportation artery in the height of tourist season. It has been the logistical equivalent of a heart attack to coastal Alaska. The damages suffered is already incalculable.

We remain open to working with the IBU to reach an agreement that is lawful, good, and fair to employees and all Alaskans. We will not abandon our posts at the negotiating table until we reach a fair and fiscally responsible outcome.

We sit ready to receive the first legally permissible offer IBU is ready to make.

Kelly Tshibaka is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration.

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  • From everything I’ve read the Union wants to meet look at there earlier press release sounds like the out of towner OMB Director creates this mess.

    • The IBU’s demand is to change the budget. They cry about the state will cut ferry service so they cut the ferry service. I have not read where they negotiated in good faith.

    • I would be like to know what you’ve read, so I know we are evaluating the same information. Then we could make a reasoned judgement.

  • Can you post some links to “everything” you have read, Don?

  • Sure glad Kelly is on our side. It looks like the union has done pretty much as much damage as possible, now maybe we should be looking at alternative methods to move freight and people.

  • just create some high paying government jobs for their spouses. They will come back to work.

  • Remember the Hindenberg? New versions of it are available even now in Alaska.. Safe versions using non flammable gas.

  • Here is the real story. The IUB is being used by other government unions to push back against the SCOTUS Janus v. AFSCME which outlaws mandatory government union membership. That is the real story, not the wages, etc.

  • This is interesting. When I talked to the union president in California a week ago, she claims that the state of Alaska is lying and that there are no illegal actions or demands being committed. She also claimed that it’s the state refusing to bargain, not the Union.

    Then, she promptly hung up on me.

    Even though I do not agree with our governors’ cuts to the AMHS (and other cuts as well), I have to side with the state on this one. The IBU seems to not be all that intelligent based on what I’ve read, heard, and observed on the Alaska IBU regional website.

    If Ms. Tshibaka is reading this, I think it’s time for legal action against the union. Clearly, they are not going to give in and will just keep refusing to cooperate and/or understand what you are trying to communicate.

    What I do know, however, is that we need these ferries up and running ASAP. The lives of the entire region depend on them. Let’s get it fixed, and soon.

  • Since the IUB negotiators don’t seem to be willing to stay within the law, it’s my opinion that Governor Dunleavy should order the strikers back to work. If necessary, obtain a court order to do it. The treatment of the strikers should be something like the way President Reagan dealt with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in 1981 (https://www.npr.org/2006/08/03/5604656/1981-strike-leaves-legacy-for-american-workers).

    Remember President Reagan was president of his own union (Screen Actors Guild) before he entered state politics and then national politics. He wasn’t against against unions, just against illegal activity. It would be good for the IUB members to return to work soon, like tomorrow. Prolonged strikes are always detrimental to all parties.

    In my 31-year career as a railroad clerk, I was a union member. Because of railroad strikes in the early 20th century which were devastating to the nation, the Railway Labor Act was enacted in 1926. Railroads and unions have agreements rather than contracts. They keep working under the old agreement until a new agreement is reached by negotiation. There are many steps which must be taken before a strike or lockout can be called legally. So railroad strikes are rare. When they do happen, the President of the United States usually orders the strikers back to work. They go back to work and continue to negotiate.

    The point of the strike has been made!

    • The Alaska Public Employment Relations Act is very, very different from the federal Railway Labor Act.

  • Here’s a dirty little secret; the State doesn’t really have a clue what the cost of living differential between “Seattle” and “Alaska” is. AS 23.40.210 requires that any labor agreement have such a differential. The late ’70s amendment to the Public Employment Relations Act was aimed at the marine unions because it was widely, and I believe rightfully, believed that the majority of their higher paid members lived Outside, and the State wanted to encourage Alaska hire. Few of them moved to Alaska but a lot of them fraudulently claimed resident pay. We ran a lot of them to ground in the Hickel Administration but then the Knowles Administration sold the investigation, and the labor relations staff that did it, to the unions and let the cheaters off the hook.

    But I digress; as far as I know the State hasn’t done a comprehensive salary study since the Eighties. ASEA sued the State in the Nineties over that, and the State’s response was to repeal the law that required salary and cost of living differential studies. Section 210 is itself vague; at the time the ferries served Seattle and there is no definition for “Alaska.” The AMHS hasn’t docked at Pier 48 since the Nineties. The cost of living in “Alaska” varies greatly between Anchorage and the Southeast Outports, islands, and isolated villages with no road access.

    If your comparison is between Downtown Seattle and Anchorage, you’d pay the non-resident more. There is probably little difference in the cost of living between Seattle and Juneau or Ketchikan, and Juneau and Ketchikan are the primary “change ports” for the AMHS, that is where one crew is relieved and another takes its place; there are others, but those are the big ones. I think the State pays a 5% Cost of Living or Geographic Differential between Anchorage and Juneau, but that is a political number; the difference in cost of living between ANC and JNU is MUCH more than 5%, probably more like 25% or more.

    So, I agree with the Commissioner that as a theoretical matter a proposal that there be no cost of living differential between resident and non-resident employees is an illegal proposal because the law requires one; it isn’t an easy question what that differential should be. When I had to do this stuff, I on my own authority, abandoned the “Seattle” part of the law and looked at Western Washington BLS cost of living stats and used the only “Alaska” stats I could get, the BLS Anchorage stats. Anchorage is the only Alaska location that the Bureau of Labor Statistics samples. The Alaska Department of Labor also samples, but AKDOL is VERY subject to political influence and I never relied on them. Which isn’t to say that the USBLS isn’t also subject to political influence, but at least it effects everybody the same way.

    The union should know that a proposal for mandatory union membership is illegal, but you’re also dealing with Commiefornia union reps. In Commiefornia, the employer has no say in mandatory union membership; it is up to the union. PERA does have a distinction from the federal law on this issue. While Janus is controlling on whether or not union membership is mandatory, unlike the federal bargaining law, PERA makes employer deduction of union dues a legal obligation on the employee’s authorization so long as the union is recognized. Under federal law, employer deduction of dues is a creature of contract, so if there is no contract the employer doesn’t have to do the deduction and transmittal of union dues. There is a good argument that employer deduction might violate various other Alaska statutes, but none of this has been litigated.

  • It might do the IBU well to look up an illegal strike by ILWU and it’s consequences. IBU is the marine division of ILWU. ILWU works the docks and IBU the marine part. IBU means “Inland Boatmen Union”. In Juneau, in 1948-49, ILWU engaged in a strike against Juneau Spruce Co. Juneau Spruce sued ILWU on the basis of illegal striking. Juneau Spruce won the case and the resulting judgement against ILWU very nearly destroyed the union. The court judgement against ILWU plus the loss of income ruling for Juneau Spruce was several million dollars that the union didn’t have. The only thing that saved the Alaska ILWU/IBU was contributions from others of means, from outside the state. The point is, if an illegal strike/job action is pursued by any union, it may be their own undoing. I believe that’s what’s going on with the current IBU AMHS strike. When it does go to court, unless the PERA rules allow it (which I doubt), the current strike could mean disaster for IBU. The IBU leadership deserves the blame. The membership would rather be making a living and supporting their families instead of engaging in political hit job actions that I believe are illegal.

    • Before I get called on it, I am completely aware Alaska was a territory in 1948-49, not a state.

    • The West Coast Longshoremen’s Union was a communist dominated union. Their leader was Harry Bridges who when Robert Kennedy tried to run him to ground in the early Sixties fled the Country and was next seen with his comrades on the balcony of The Kremlin.

      Juneau was about the farthest north penetration of the Longshoremen, though they still have some of the remote places. The reason the Teamsters wound up controlling the docks in much of Alaska was the fact that the Teamsters were anti-communist. Since the ports in continental Alaska were so vital to US military security, the US simply wouldn’t tolerate a communist dominated union controlling those ports.

      The West Coast Longshoremen under Bridges controlled all the West Coast and Pacific Island ports. One may be permitted to wonder why so much of Comrade Obama’s heritage involved Harry Bridges controlled towns like Seattle and Honolulu.

      • Art,
        Still is pretty much controlled the same (west coast). One of the main holidays for the ILWU is Harry Bridges birthday. Bridges was deported and made it back to make the ILWU reality in the later ’30s. Hawaii is still the big gun (most members). The only reason Anchorage is teamster affiliated is because the ILWU in Seward didn’t think dock work in Anchorage was significant at the time and refused to grant the Anchorage longshoremen membership because then, they would have to share the work with Anchorage visitors in their port. Big mistake for them. That was several years before the ‘big one’ in ’64, in the ’50s.

  • Privatize the AMHS. Let the IBU chew on those apples and see how the like it.

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