Suspended ASEA union president back in office

Posted: Tuesday, March 05, 2002

The president of the largest union of state employees is back in his post after being suspended following allegations that he endangered the organization.

But Alaska State Employees Association President Ernest Thomas still faces an internal judicial panel's investigation into allegations made against him by the union's executive board - and allegations he made against the labor group's governing panel.

"Mr. Thomas has been reinstated as president, and judicial hearings on matters will be April 17 in Anchorage," said Roberta Heine, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C., office of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

ASEA is AFSCME Local 52 and is the collective bargaining representative for about 7,700 members of what's called the general government unit of state workers, which includes clerks, biologists and some administrators. About 2,000 members live in Juneau.

Thomas was suspended by ASEA's executive board in January after members accused him of "conduct imminently dangerous to the welfare of the local." The board alleged he helped someone sue the union, sent an e-mail to 185 people inaccurately alleging problems with the union's health trust, and refused or delayed signing ASEA checks. All the actions cost the union money, according to the allegations.

In a letter to ASEA Acting President Sue Layton, AFSCME International President Gerald McEntee ordered Thomas reinstated, but said the action was separate from the union's internal judicial process.

"My decision to terminate this suspension will have no effect on the outcome of any charges that may be filed in this manner," McEntee wrote.

AFSCME spokeswoman Heine, in a telephone interview from Washington, said McEntee's ruling was very narrow in focus.

"He wasn't ruling that the charges are or aren't true," Heine said.

Thomas, who was reinstated Feb. 21, called the allegations against him "meritless."

"It's a dysfunctional board," he said in a Monday telephone interview. "This would be their ninth effort to harm me in my presidency in a two-year period."

The union, and Thomas, have a contentious history.

During a battle over the firing of a Juneau ASEA business agent two summers ago, Thomas said he would not support renewing Business Manager Chuck O'Connell's contract. During that conflict, some ASEA members accused O'Connell and other union leaders of being too "cozy" with state officials while ignoring members. O'Connell said meeting with state officials was a regular part of resolving conflicts between workers and management.

O'Connell, himself fired and reinstated by the ASEA board about five years ago over what were called "philosophical differences," wouldn't comment on the current conflict or Thomas' reinstatement.

Thomas, a state seafood inspection official based in Anchorage, is ending his first two-year term as the union's president. He is seeking another term in an election now taking place and is running against four other candidates: Barbara Karl, Pat Morrow and Roger Prince of Anchorage and Tim Beck of Fairbanks.

Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at

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