Employees wage button rebellion

Posted: Thursday, March 25, 2004

Administrators at the state ferry system were told last week their jobs would move to Ketchikan as early as this summer, but some of them aren't taking it quietly.

Handmade buttons reading "Stop the move" and "It's time for Frank to go" appeared at Alaska Marine Highway System offices shortly after the move was announced on March 8.

Administrative manager Lynn Escola and other ferry system workers were told by General Manager George Capacci on March 10 to remove the buttons.

The following day Capacci sent an e-mail to marine highway employees, noting that state law "permits employees to express political opinions; however, while engaged on official business an employee may not display or distribute partisan political materials."

"Moreover, it is the employer's right to establish reasonable work rules," Capacci wrote. "This includes prohibiting distribution or display of anti-employer communications, posters buttons, literature, pins, T-shirts and similar promotion devices at work or while representing the employer outside the workplace."

Escola said she contacted the Alaska Public Employees Association shortly after the incident for a clarification of the law. She contends that nowhere in state law are employees precluded from wearing political buttons.

"I think it was a clumsy attempt on the part of management to shut us up," Escola said. "We have rights and I feel our rights have been denied."

Escola said the state needs a firm legal basis for the decision to order them to not wear the buttons.

Art Chance, with the state Department of Administration, said the state is preparing a statement to clarify what workers can and cannot wear at the office.

"Some of the material was clearly partisan and you can't do that," Chance said. "Some was issue advocacy and you can do that."

He said the buttons calling on the removal of Gov. Frank Murkowski would be considered partisan speech while those calling for stopping the move would be issue advocacy.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy.inklebarger@juneauempire.com.

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