Opinion: End capital creep; keep union talks in Juneau

Posted: Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Thumbs down to former Juneau Sen. Jim Duncan for holding up the state's union negotiations with his proposal that the talks be moved to Anchorage for convenience and financial savings for the Alaska State Employees Association.

Duncan thinks it's unfair that his collective bargaining unit, which represents about half of the state's public employees, has to pay the freight for negotiators to fly to the capital city to take care of business. Airfare and per diem expenses are a bit rich, he reasons, and moving negotiations to Anchorage would be more convenient and cost effective for all involved in the negotiation process.

Part of Duncan's rationale is that, with negotiations now at a standstill, moving the bargaining table to Anchorage could help break the stalemate. It's unlikely, however, that a change of scenery will change the bargaining process. And if the move did occur, many from Juneau and other parts of the state would have to travel to Anchorage, resulting in more cost to the state.

The fundamental flaw in Duncan's thinking has to do with the capital city itself, and Gov. Frank Murkowski's staff is correct in asserting that the state's business should be conducted here in Juneau. Mike Miller, the state's administration commissioner, was quoted Monday as saying, "This is where the Legislature is located, where agency records are kept and where the Division of Labor Relations is located," and he's right.

With the recent furor over the governor's decision to move the Alaska Marine Highway System offices from Juneau to Ketchikan, this is certainly the wrong time to give the appearance of still more "capital creep."

It doesn't appear, at this point, that hammering out a contract for the union is going to be easy or inexpensive. With that in mind, it makes sense for negotiations to continue here in Juneau.

Thumbs up: And speaking of the move of the ferry system offices, thumbs up to the Juneau Assembly for its attempt to delay the move until economic and other studies can be undertaken.

The Assembly adopted a resolution Monday asking the governor to hold off on the move, while the economic impacts on Juneau and Ketchikan are studied and until the effects of the move on the state and ferry system employees are known.

The move by the Assembly is probably an exercise in futility, for the governor and his staff have said his mind is made up; the issue needs no further study or analysis. Our local elected officials are doing the right thing, though, in seeking a reversal of the governor's decision.

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