Art Chance: Election year coming up and labor agreements expire in June 2022


The state’s industrial relations section website dates back only to the mid-2000s with archived labor agreements. Few, if any, of these exist in hardcover and printed copies.

From the start of negotiations, the agreements had been painstakingly hand-typed, rigorously edited and, once approved by both parties, signed and sent to Central Duplication for offset printing and binding. Most were released as 4-inch by 5-inch booklets that could fit in the back pocket of a pair of jeans. The wear marks in this pocket were as much a mark of status and social standing for a union, especially shop stewards, as was the Skoal ring on the pocket of a construction worker. It didn’t say as much as the “little red book” in the back pocket of radical ’60s jeans, but it said it all.

One of the last contracts printed and distributed in this form was the 1984-86 agreements between the state and the Alaska Public Employees Association, which represented both the approximately 8,000 members of the General Government Unit and the approximately 1,300 members of the Supervisory Unit. government employees.

From the beginning of 1987, copies were becoming difficult to find because so many copies had been entered into evidence in arbitrations, labor board hearings and court cases following the collapse in oil prices in the United States. mid-1980s and the refusal of the Legislative Assembly to finance the 3.6% negotiated. increase for fiscal 1986. A ten-year war ensued between the state and its unions, and by the end of that decade there was little left of the old ways.

In retrospect, the 3.6 percent the Sheffield administration offered to unions weren’t particularly out of line, even though it was more than the CPI had risen since the last negotiated increase. For most of the 1970s, Alaska experienced double-digit inflation. Usually Alaska has coped with inflation by causing more inflation and increasing wages to try and keep up with inflation. Government employees got some of these inflationary increases, but not all employees and not all of the cost of living increases. They got all kinds of advantages and operational advantages.

One of the benefits that remained in the womb of the legislature was to give employees their birthday as a paid day off. The power of the legislature to reject a contract was not yet fully understood, and still is not, but they figured out how to pass an amendment to the Public Employment Relations Act and they defined the monetary terms. an agreement subject to legislative approval to include any provision that altered an employee’s productive working hours; it was just the prelude.

Oil prices were close to the mid-1930s between the early and mid-1980s. In today’s dollars, it’s almost $ 100 / bbl. oil. Alaska’s dreams of domed capitals and Soviet-scale hydroelectric projects collapsed with the price of oil hitting nearly $ 10 a barrel. in around 1985. The legislature responded by refusing to fund the wage increase and we spent a decade with unions suing, crying, complaining, singing songs and carrying signs in the streets.

The only thing they never did was strike, and we never laid off a significant number of them. The Cowper and then Hickel administrations both decided that we would not give them any general increases, but that we would not seek concessions to the point of causing a strike, although we are sometimes tempted. Basically, we had enough foreclosed homes and foreclosed cars in Alaska and the state didn’t want to create more. Most government employees benefit from a tiered pay system that grants them an increase of about 3% each year for their first five years.

At that time, the average tenure for the Government Unit was barely five years, so most received a salary adjustment every year, even if they did not get general increases. It was enough to keep them sullen but not mutinous, and these became our watchwords; keep them sullen but not mutinous.

If I had to choose the cornerstone of my career, it would be the fact that the operating budget of the General State Fund was essentially stable during my tenure from 1987 to 2006. It increased slightly with oil prices during the war. Gulf and with the injection of liquidity. cleaning the Exxon Valdez.

We succumbed to the pressure of Tony Knowles and Sarah Palin’s promises ahead of the 2006 election, but through four governors, one of whom really didn’t want to, we stayed on the operating budget for more than ‘a decade. I will congratulate myself and my colleagues for doing this, but I will temper it with a confession: we have never had to deal with inflation. Republican presidents and a Republican Congress during most of the Clinton administration have kept inflation under control.

We are going somewhere where no one has been before. I sort of knew some of the people who faced the soaring inflation of the 1970s. I don’t think any of them are in Alaska yet; if they are, they are not active, and I know many of them are no longer with us. Thirty years later I was trying to negotiate things on the deals they made to try to keep the peace, but they were doing a whole new thing and no one knew how.

The people who represented the state during the years of the oil crash and its aftermath went on to represent the state as directors of labor and staff relations, two as human resource managers for the justice system, one in as a labor relations officer and later president of the University, one as a senior manager in the City and Borough of Juneau, one as a senior manager in Nevada and one as a responsible for labor relations for Chugach Electric.

As far as I know, only two or three of us are still in Alaska. I don’t know about the other two, but I’m not looking for a job in the state, especially these days.

The election year for governor is approaching. The government is up for auction. I always thought that if I had the foremen and laborers, artisans and craftsmen under contract, I could run the state no matter who else wants to strike or sing songs and carry signs. The general government agreement expires on June 30, 2022, and the 8,000 and the currency of them are available to be pushed into a screaming fury to elect Bill Walker or the governor of Les Gara so he can give them money. money and free them.

George Soros and all kinds of Communist front groups will make sure they have the money to play. I played this game with them during Hickel’s day; there was nothing we could give them that would make them agree to a deal. We came to taunt them with offers requiring them to explain to their single members why she couldn’t get a raise because it was more important for them to be in politics. We put money on the table because we knew they wouldn’t take it, and we wanted to rub our noses with it. They wanted to wait for their “made-man”, Tony Knowles. It didn’t work out very well for them.

There is no peaceful way the Dunleavy administration can make a deal with them. The only way to get an agreement with them, and more importantly to eliminate them as a major factor in being elected governor, is to pose an existential threat to them. The state’s initial proposal should not include a union security clause at all; Union and agency shops have been illegal in the public sector since the Janus decision in 2018. It is between the union and the employee if the employee wishes to be a member; it is not the employer’s business.

The Dunleavy administration has done everything possible wrong in implementing or failing to implement Janus, but if he wishes to be re-elected, he could try to get it right.

In addition, under Janus, as well as under certain constitutional arguments of the state, the contribution deduction provisions of the Public Employment Relations Act are also unconstitutional. In my experience, if you have a union by the sack of dues, their hearts and minds follow.

There are their “paint by numbers” instructions, but I’m willing to be disappointed with them.

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 on Amazon.

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