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The Alaska State Employees Association is presenting a contract to its members that will result in a significant reduction in the inflation-adjusted wages of the majority of state employees.
The effect can be seen in the key economic elements of the agreement that has been reached with the state's negotiators: No wage adjustment until July 1, 2005, when ASEA members receive 1.5 percent, then a year later 2 percent. (Keep in mind that the last increase ASEA members received was on Dec. 1, 2002 and inflation is now just shy of 3 percent and projected to rise.)
With this contract, inflation-adjusted wages of thousands of state employees will be reduced by approximately 8 percent (from 2002 levels) by July 1, 2007. Additionally, state employees will have to pay for increases in health care premiums. ASEA's members will feel the pain immediately as paychecks are reduced by $56 monthly beginning July 1 of this year when the state begins deducting money for an increased health insurance premium.
How did this happen? Well, it certainly wasn't a surprise to anyone who has been keeping an eye on the ASEA management. Fundamental to a union achieving success at the bargaining table is having the strong support of an informed membership. Those who set policy and direction for ASEA (the Statewide Executive Board) have failed in their obligation to inform and organize the membership of ASEA. Instead, over the past two years they have engaged in organizational cannibalism against the ASEA Health and Legal Trusts. The Legal Trust stood its ground and refused to be taken over by this group of bullies. The end result is that after the Executive Board lost every court action with the Legal Trust, and spent a small fortune of its members' money in the process, ASEA is left with the sad realization that a very large number of its members just don't support it any longer.
What can be done? If state employees want respect at the bargaining table, they are going to have to stand up and demand it. By abandoning the strike authorization balloting that was underway, ASEA has signaled that it is resigned to deliver yet another lame contract and will be unprepared to return to the bargaining table if its members don't ratify the agreement. ASEA's members shouldn't let the union get too comfortable with that attitude. I encourage the members of ASEA to refuse to ratify the contract and demand that ASEA resume the strike authorization balloting immediately in preparation for bargaining.
It is obvious that the best and brightest aren't running ASEA, and only when those people come forward to assume leadership positions in the union will there be any hope of turning ASEA into an organization that can deliver on the promise to fight for the working men and women of the state of Alaska. Only then can state employees expect to see an end to the erosion of their quality of life.
Dennis Gellhouse is a Juneau resident and member of ASEA. He was a member of the group that founded ASEA and has held numerous positions in it, including statewide president.