Habitat-employees union protests change

Group says Murkowski plan to cut jobs could be violation of contract

Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2003

The union representing workers in the state's Habitat Division says Gov. Frank Murkowski's plan to eliminate jobs there could be a contract violation.

The union may file a grievance if Murkowski goes ahead with plans to move permitting responsibilities from the Habitat Division of the Department of Fish and Game, according to officials of the Alaska State Employees Association AFSCME Local 52.

The union issued a statement Thursday critical of Murkowski's plan.

"Until something happens, we can't actually file a grievance," said union spokesman Reber Stein. "We are coming out ahead of this to give the state notice that we perceive a sensitive situation."

The union represents about 8,000 state workers.

Murkowski issued an executive order this week transferring permitting responsibilities from the Habitat Division to the state Department of Natural Resources.

The executive order becomes final April 15 if the Legislature takes no action.

Officials with Fish and Game say up to 35 employees would be transferred and as many as 20 would be laid off. The Habitat Division would retain only a handful of workers for research.

The Habitat Division has stood in the way of legitimate projects that would aid development in Alaska, the governor said, accusing some division employees of delaying projects because of personal biases.

He cited an alleged pizza party sponsored by some Habitat employees to celebrate the closure of the pulp mill in Ketchikan.

The union disputed Murkowski comments about the performance of the division employees and said it "does not agree that the transfer represents the best administration of government."

"Routine research has revealed that his strong criticism of the division is unwarranted," the union said in a statement.

There are several problems with the governor's executive order, the union said, including a possible loss of federal funds.

The change could invite the federal government to enforce habitat protection, and that could lead to permit delays, the union said.

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