Unions try to organize university employees

Posted: Monday, March 01, 2010

FAIRBANKS - Two labor groups have spent the past six months trying to organize workers at the University of Alaska, and one of them said it has collected enough union-authorization cards to trigger an election.

The Alaska State Employees Association and the Alaska Public Employees Association are targeting office workers, such as clerks and administrative assistants. Professors and maintenance workers already have union representation.

Valid authorization cards from at least 30 percent of the affected workers are needed for a labor organization to be placed on the ballot as union representative. The ASEA filed a petition this week with the Alaska Labor Relations Agency, stating it has done just that.

The union declined to reveal precisely how many cards it has received. Its business manger, former state Sen. Jim Duncan, said it's "significantly more" than the threshold.

The petition, however, has not stopped its rival union from continuing to recruit. Even if ASEA is certified by the state, APEA could still claim enough cards to share the ballot in an upcoming union election.

APEA President Bruce Senko said he's skeptical that ASEA organizers have collected enough cards to become certified. The rival is hastily filing its petition simply to stake a claim as the leader in the race to represent UA employees, he said.

"We think they filed just to say they filed," Senko told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

It's unclear exactly how many UA employees could be affected by the unionization efforts. UA has about 2,700 nonunion employees, but that figure includes people in management who wouldn't be represented.

If both ASEA and APEA eventually make their way onto a ballot, a majority of voters would need to approve representation by one of the unions or decide to remain unorganized. If a three-choice ballot doesn't result in a majority winner, a runoff election would be held between the two most popular options.

A previous effort to unionize UA office workers was made in 1998 but employees voted it down. Duncan said the argument for unionization is stronger today, because of a widening pay gap between UA workers and state employees in the same positions.

UA spokeswoman Kate Ripley said the university plans to stay out of the unionization discussion.

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