Wisconsin union battle may foreshadow Alaska struggle

State elected officials see little motivation for similar measure

Posted: Friday, March 25, 2011

Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, wants to follow in the footsteps of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-public employee union fight, but other state leaders say they’ve got little interest in taking up that battle in Alaska.


“I’ve seen no reason to change the current structure at this point,” said Gov. Sean Parnell Thursday.

“This is something we don’t need in Alaska,” said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, who also serves as House Democratic Leader.

Gatto’s proposal, House Bill 200, would allow unions to negotiate only for wages, barring negotiations for benefits, working conditions or other aspects of their jobs.

Several legislators, in both Houses and across party line, say there’s little support for Gatto’s proposal.

Gatto acknowledged it may be difficult to pass his proposal, but it was necessary to rein in union power in Alaska.

“I don’t hate unions, I just want to get things into alignment,” he said. Gatto is a former firefighter and teacher, and a 30-year union member, he said. Firefighters, medics and police officers are exempted from House Bill 200 because they can’t strike, he said.

Assemblies, school boards and other public bodies are typically cowed by strong union turnout when contracts are up for renewal, he said.

“They can’t help but get intimidated,” he said.

Several leaders described a different process than did Gatto.

Parnell said Alaska was currently negotiating in good faith with its employee unions.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said the state’s unions are currently working constructively with the state to deal with one of its top budget priorities, addressing a multi-billion unfunded liability in its pension and medical plans.

“I don’t see anybody really rushing to support that legislation here,” Kerttula said.

Gatto’s bill currently has no co-sponsors. A separate anti-union bill to make Alaska a right-to-work state was introduced in January and has not received a hearing.

That bill has no co-sponsors, after Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, withdrew her co-sponsorship.

“With less than four weeks left in the session it would be very difficult to get new legislation passed,” said Cindy Spanyers, legislative liaison for the Alaska Public Employees Association.

Gatto acknowledged it could be difficult.

“The prospects are weak, but we do have another year on front of us,” during the two-year legislative session, he said.

Rep. Lindsey Holmes, D-Anchorage, said she doubted Gatto’s proposal would win widespread support.

“I think it would really fundamentally undermine the system that’s been working here in Alaska,” she said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or Patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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