My Turn: Moving negotiations is fair, and it isn't capital creep

Posted: Thursday, March 25, 2004

Governor Frank Murkowski and his administration have misled the public about the breakdown in contract negotiations between the State and the Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA). Unfortunately, the Juneau Empire repeated this distortion of the truth in an editorial published yesterday.

A false statement originating in a Murkowski press release and picked up by the Empire that, "former Juneau Sen. Jim Duncan (is) 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" is one of many printed assertions that have no basis in truth.

It appears the Murkowski administration believes that if the facts aren't in your favor, you distort the truth and resort to personal attacks to attempt to win public support. The Empire editorial staff has swallowed that approach hook, line and sinker.

Contract negotiations are at a stalemate because ASEA, which I represent at the bargaining table, has declared that we are at an impasse. It is a complete misstatement of fact to say that the breakdown is because I want to move negotiations to Anchorage. Nothing is further from the truth. ASEA will return to the bargaining table, in Juneau, when the Alaska Labor Relations Agency makes a determination whether or not an impasse exists.

Empire readers are owed some factual background from its editors. I proposed in October 2003, on behalf of the union, that bargaining sessions be rotated among Juneau, Anchorage, and Fairbanks. This in itself is not unusual. During the 1999 contract talks, two sessions were held in Fairbanks, 10 sessions held in Anchorage, and 10 sessions held in Juneau. The Knowles administration understood that, as a matter of fairness and equity, it should not require the union to shoulder the entire burden of the costs of negotiating.

The Murkowski administration has refused to consider rotating the bargaining sessions and, in December 2003, the union filed an unfair labor practice against the state on the issue. However, contract talks continued to take place in Juneau, stopping only when the union declared impasse on March 12, after 30 days of face-to-face negotiations. We will return to the bargaining table, in Juneau, when the conditions of impasse are changed.

To personalize criticism of the bargaining talks by suggesting I am furthering "capital creep" is unjustified, unfair and a manipulation of truth to shift focus from the unwillingness of the state to negotiate a fair contract with the ASEA.

I have served the community of Juneau with distinction for 24 years in the State Legislature. During that time, I resisted many attempts by others to move the capital and Legislature. I made it my highest priority to stop the relocation of positions from Juneau to elsewhere in the state. Many people in Juneau are familiar with my commitment to the capital city and they have acknowledged my effort. For the Empire to characterize me as contributing to "capital creep" is profoundly disappointing.

Holding negotiating sessions in communities other than Juneau is akin to the Legislature holding committee meetings in communities other than Juneau or state employees traveling to other communities for meetings on issues. It is not the movement of jobs from Juneau, nor is it "capital creep".

Capital creep is the Murkowski administration moving more than 40 marine highway jobs to Ketchikan. Capital creep is Gov. Murkowski being out of Juneau 232 days in 2003. Capital creep is the lieutenant governor making Anchorage his main office instead of Juneau.

Despite the personalization and politicizing of state employee contract negotiations, ASEA intends to continue bargaining based on the truth and a faith in what is fair and right for our membership.

On a personal note, as a 40-year resident of Juneau and former state representative and senator of Juneau, I remain committed to the capital city and will continue to fight aggressively against every attempt by the Murkowski administration to relocate jobs from Juneau or harm the welfare of hard-working public employees who live here or elsewhere in the state of Alaska.

• Jim Duncan served Juneau in the House and Senate for 24 years. He was commissioner of administration in the Knowles administration. He is currently business manager of ASEA/AFSCME Local 52, representing more than 7,500 state employees.

Editor's Note: Duncan is correct in his assertion that the ASEA's contract negotiations have not stalled because he wants to change the location for labor talks from Juneau to Anchorage, but because of the impasse he references in his My Turn column today. A statement to the contrary, which appeared in our editorial in Wednesday's edition, was incorrect. We regret the error.

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