Governor's appointee to labor board silenced

State counters judge's restraint with avowal that Spalding has necessary background as labor rep

Posted: Sunday, April 25, 2004

A man Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed to the state's labor relations board won't be able to participate at least until a Juneau judge considers union claims that he isn't qualified.

The state says James Spalding, a human resources administrator at the Matanuska Electric Association Inc. since 1997, is qualified to serve as a labor representative on the Alaska Labor Relations Agency.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks granted a temporary restraining order Friday. It bars Spalding's participation on the ALRA before the judge considers questions raised in a lawsuit filed last week.

Weeks scheduled a May 3 hearing on unions' request for a preliminary injunction that would prevent Spalding from serving on the board.

The lawsuit, filed Monday on behalf of the AFL-CIO and seven other labor unions, names Murkowski and Spalding and seeks to overturn Spalding's appointment.

Of the ALRA's six board members, two come from labor, two from management and two from the general public. When the agency hears unfair-labor-practice cases, the chairman appoints one member from each category to the panel.

In Friday's order, Weeks wrote that Spalding had been involved with labor relations for about 24 years, less than three of which were as a labor representative. The rest was on the management side.

The state's response to the lawsuit "amply demonstrates that a person's career is often a mixture of those responsibilities," Weeks continued. "But the statute requires the appointee be a person with a background in labor as opposed to management."

He wrote that the unions "raise serious and substantial questions. ... The court believes that if the ALRA were to appear partial, it would cause that body, and the litigants before it, irreparable harm."

Assistant Attorney General David Jones, in defense of Murkowski and Spalding, argued in a response filed Thursday that Spalding satisfies the statutory qualifications for the position and that the unions are incorrect in asserting a person with a management background will be biased against labor.

"Certainly Mr. Spalding was representing labor when he processed grievances, administered contracts and participated in contract negotiations for nearly three years during his employment with the Alaska Public Employees Association," Jones wrote.

He also argued that two people who filed affidavits in support of the union motion - Alaska AFL-CIO President Jim Sampson and Alaska Public Employees Association Business Manager Bruce Ludwig - had backgrounds in labor and management.

The lawsuit included Ludwig's assertion that Deputy Attorney General Scott Nordstrand had said the governor could "stack" the ALRA in favor of management if unions did not work with the governor to pass Senate Bill 352, a proposal that would have excluded some state employees from collective bargaining.

Jones' response includes an affidavit from Nordstrand, who said he did not talk about stacking the board, but told Ludwig there would be new members on the ALRA, and the state would have new arguments to offer them.

"I assumed that Gov. Murkowski would appoint qualified people for all the positions on the agency," he said.

Jones also argued that the courtroom is not the appropriate place to address the objection to the appointment. It is up to the Legislature to confirm Spalding, and it is not scheduled to consider appointments until it returns for a special session May 8.

Weeks ruled, though, that the legislative confirmation process is not restricted by legal qualifications.

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