JUNEAU — The Anchorage NAACP demanded Wednesday that Alaska Republican lieutenant governor hopeful Dan Sullivan apologize for comments likening required payment of union dues to slavery.
The organization’s president, Wanda Laws, said in a statement that to compare slavery to current political issues “diminishes how horrible and tragic” it was.
Laws responded to comments Sullivan made during a candidate forum Monday, featuring GOP rival Lesil McGuire and Democrats Hollis French and Bob Williams.
Sullivan, the Anchorage mayor, was asked about right-to-work legislation, in which employees are not required to join a union to get or keep a job. According to a video of the exchange, Sullivan said he supported such legislation.
“Nobody should ever have to basically pay a fee to someone else to get a job in this state. I mean, we got rid of slavery a long time ago,” he said. “You should never have to encumber yourself out of your wages in order to work in this state.”
He called it a “freedom issue.”
Sullivan told The Associated Press on Wednesday that there are many forms of slavery, and he was talking about “economic slavery.”
“I don’t think an apology is necessary,” he said. “I think that maybe people just need to discuss and clarify what it means to be forced to do something you don’t want to do to get a job. And by various definitions, that’s a form of economic slavery.”
Sullivan has had a rocky relationship with labor unions.
As mayor of Alaska’s largest city, he championed a measure to limit pay raises for municipal workers and their right to strike. On his campaign website, he said his administration took a lead on “reforming labor laws to reflect the economic reality of our community.” A referendum on that measure is pending.
Laws said in an interview that she realizes Sullivan was referring to “economic slavery” but that’s not the first thing people usually think about when they hear the word slavery.
She said among the political realm of late, the word “has been used quite loosely and it’s offensive to a lot of people because of the history that it has in our country.”
In Alaska, two Dan Sullivans are scheduled to appear on the August primary ballot. The other Dan Sullivan is a former state attorney general and Natural Resources commissioner who is seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.