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Gov. Frank Murkowski again has a vacancy to fill on the state labor relations board after a recent appointee withdrew after a legal challenge from Alaska labor unions.
James Spalding said he still feels qualified for the post, but he let Murkowski know late Friday that he intended to withdraw from the Alaska Labor Relations Agency because he could see his service would be "fraught with controversy."
A hearing had been scheduled for Monday in Juneau Superior Court on a lawsuit filed by Alaska's AFL-CIO and seven other labor unions, seeking an injunction against Spalding's service on the ALRA. The suit argued that Spalding, who has worked as a human resources administrator with the Matanuska Electric Association Inc. since 1997, comes from the world of management.
State law provides that the agency be made up of six members appointed by the governor. Two seats are designated for labor, two for management and two for the general public. When the agency holds a hearing for an employee claiming unfair-labor practices, one member from each category is appointed to hear the case.
Alaska AFL-CIO President Jim Sampson said he had nothing against Spalding personally, but was looking for Murkowski to appoint someone from labor to a position that is supposed to be designated for a labor representative.
"He has lots of choices," Sampson said.
In a response to the union lawsuit, Assistant Alaska Attorney General David Jones wrote that Spalding had experience in labor as well as management. He wrote that Spalding worked for nearly three years with the Alaska Public Employees Association.
Spalding said he appreciated the nomination. But even if he survived the legal challenge to his appointment, he said, every time he found himself involved with a decision going against unions, it would be challenged.
"It appeared to me the unions were not going to give up," he said.
The ALRA post is uncompensated, except for expenses, but Spalding enjoys working in labor relations, he said.
He said the court challenge was ironic because he is a Democrat and is probably closer politically to the people who challenged him than he is to the Republican governor.
Murkowski spokesman John Manly said the governor is reviewing names of people who could fill Spalding's spot on the ALRA. He said the next appointee isn't expected to be ready in time for legislative confirmation hearings later this month.
Whoever is appointed would serve as an interim member without legislative approval until next year, he said.
"We respect the right for the governor to appoint (ALRA members)," Sampson said. He said it isn't a question of whether unions agree with the appointment, but whether it follows the law.
Tony Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.