Gov. Sarah Palin should change course from her administration's unrealistic position regarding contract negotiations with the supervisory unit of the Alaska Public Employees Association. Supervisory unit members were backed into a corner over these past 22 years of sub-par contracts, and now we've come to a "fight or flight" situation. We shouldn't back down, because we simply can't afford to. This is not a matter of one-upmanship, or disrespect, but a matter of necessity and livelihood.
From 1985 to 2006, the cumulative change in the Consumer Price Index increased by 67 percent, while during the same period, supervisors' wages increased by 27 percent, for a difference of 40 percent loss in purchasing power. Today, state pay for supervisors has the dubious distinction of being behind the private sector by 25-35 percent, and the federal government by 40-50 percent. This pay crisis is the direct cause of the state's current crisis in recruitment. To date, Palin's efforts to address recruitment without addressing compensation have provided no remedy, as they treat the effect, but not the cause.
For years, when oil was $20 a barrel and the state faced huge deficits, the supervisors agreed to contracts that didn't cover the cost of inflation. We continually absorbed the income loss. Today, oil is at $100 a barrel with no end in sight. The state is flush with profits, yet Palin has adhered to her position, declining to address the crisis in compensation (and looming disaster) for state employees.
Neither side of this issue wants a strike, however, if a strike is the supervisory unit's very last recourse, then our only responsible choice will be to hit the picket line, because the alternative will only be more loss of income and a greater crisis in pay; one which, it could be argued, Palin is doing her best to ignore. Our governor will not be able to ignore a strike by the supervisory unit, and if such occurs, the responsibility for the strike, and its cost to the state, would rightly be laid at her administration's doorstep.
To my fellow members of the supervisory unit: If we fail to obtain a contract now, which both covers inflation and recoups some of our shortfall - when oil is at $100 and the State's pockets are bulging - tell me what you think we're going to get at our next contract negotiation. If you answered a big-fat-nothing, then you're in the right ballpark.
To my non-supervisory unit fellow Alaska readers: Please support Alaska's supervisory unit employees in our struggle to support our families and obtain a fair contract. Supervisory unit workers are Palin's loyal workforce of supervisors, who perform duties absolutely vital to the operation of our great state; from law enforcement and social services to those who plan and build our roads and those who maintain our infrastructure. We are the ones who turn on the lights in the morning and who lock the doors at night, often putting in long hours without compensation. What we are demanding, is respect. And in this case, respect equals fair pay.
Recently, in the state of Washington, Gov. Christine Gregoire acknowledged an ongoing crisis in pay for state of Washington workers. She implemented a corrective action, raising state workers' pay in many cases in excess of 20 percent, based upon market value survey. This is the kind of honest, forthright and bold leadership I would like to see from Palin.
Some say you should "make lemonade when you're dealt lemons," however, one should add sweetener to make the drink palatable. I respectfully submit that Palin and her administration should forgo the lemonade, and wake up and smell the coffee. It takes true strength of character to both realize you're on the wrong course, and to correct the course, rather than stubbornly insisting that the ship won't run aground.
Jef Morgan, a Juneau resident, is a state of Alaska employee and APEA-SU Local 4900 Member. These views are his own.
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