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State employees union to fight new space standards

Posted: July 4, 2013 - 12:12am

The state employees union will be filing a grievance against the State of Alaska for its implementation of so-called “Universal Space Standards.” Alaska State Employees Association Executive Director Jim Duncan said that the new standards are “draconian and restrictive” and that he wants the state to enter into discussions with the union.

“Under our contract, they should be discussing (the new standards) with us before they proceed,” Duncan said in an interview. “Expecting people to work in a 6’x8’ cubicle is insulting.”

The new standards were published last month. Over the next few years as leases on office spaces come up for renewal and employees require new workstations, the state will use the universal standards to guide the purchasing of new furniture and its layout. A few of the major changes include standard 6’x8’ cubicles for most employees, the elimination of private offices that monopolize window space and expanded break rooms.

Expanded break rooms are offered to mitigate noncompliance with a new ban on space heaters, personal refrigerators, microwaves and coffee makers in employee cubicles. The state blamed excessive energy use and wasted space on such appliances.

Duncan sent a letter on July 1 to the Department of Administration requesting the state to “immediately cease implementation” of the new standards. In the letter, Duncan compares the new standard cubicle size to that of a standard prison cell.

“It seems the major difference at this point is you have not your decided to have steel or solid doors on the work cubicles,” the letter states.

Duncan also takes issue with a “clean desk policy” that he states in the letter would “discourage employees from having a relaxing a comfortable working environment.”

Duncan said he’s heard from many employees who are upset about the new requirements and are considering leaving their job. He said the Universal Space Standards plan is bad for employee morale and will negatively affect efficiency. He also doubts that the state’s upfront investment will turn into the $125 million in savings over the next 10 to 20 years that the state expects it to.

Department of Administration Deputy Commissioner Curtis Thayer responded to Duncan in a July 3 letter. In it he responded to each of Duncan’s concerns said further that the state was under no obligation to discuss the standards with the union.

“… the State of Alaska will continue to implement the Universal Space Standards when it is fiscally prudent to do so,” the letter stated.

Thayer said in an interview that he’s disappointed Duncan refused to tour one of the offices that are already using the new standards.

“We invited Mr. Duncan to walk by and look at it,” Thayer said. “Don’t jump at a conclusion until you’ve seen it.”

The new standards are actually better for employees, Thayer said, because they are ergonomically designed, more efficient and focus on bringing more natural light into the office space.

“What people have to understand is that a lot of employees are already in space standards,” Thayer said. “Across the board we’re trying to improve the work environment.”

Thayer said he’s also heard from employees and that they’re appreciative for the new work spaces.

“I think the issue is more generational. A lot of the younger employees are used to space standards from working at other jobs,” Thayer said. “For some this is a dramatic change in the workplace and for others it really isn’t.”

Duncan said ASEA will file its grievance next week. From there he expects the issue to be resolved through a mediator.

• Contact reporter Jennifer Canfield at 523-2279 or at jennifer.n.canfield@juneauempire.com.

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