Union pushes for University of Alaska workers

Posted: Wednesday, June 16, 2010

FAIRBANKS - The Alaska State Employees Association plans to push for a fall election to determine whether thousands of University of Alaska employees can join the union.

The union submitted more than 1,000 authorization cards to the Alaska Labor Relations Agency last month as part of its effort to represent the university's classified staff, according to ASEA business manager Jim Duncan.

Classified employees, who make up the last major group of university workers who aren't unionized, mostly include office workers at campuses throughout the state.

The university submitted a roster of 2,643 employees who would likely be included in the unionization effort, although union officials will be able to challenge that list if it disagrees, said university spokeswoman Kate Ripley.

The proposed bargaining unit excludes classified employees who are in managerial and supervisory positions.

The unionization drive began with a nearly yearlong battle between the ASEA and a rival organization, the Alaska Public Employees Association, about who had the right to represent UA employees. The AFL-CIO, which is the umbrella organization for both unions, ruled in April that the ASEA had exclusive rights to pursue university classified employees.

The university has also countered some claims that union representation will mean better salaries and benefits, saying both union and nonunion employees have received similar increases in recent years.

Duncan said ASEA submitted 1,022 union authorization cards to the state labor agency for verification.

At least 30 percent of eligible workers must sign union authorization cards to trigger an election, and submissions are disqualified if they include incorrect information, are duplicates or if the workers are no longer employed at the university.

Jean Ward, a hearing officer for the state labor agency, said she's still in the process of checking whether the number of verified cards reaches the 30 percent threshold. If it does, a 15-day period will begin when the university is allowed to formally object to the composition of the bargaining unit or make other complaints.

Duncan said ASEA will recommend an election in September or October, although the state will set the date for the vote. He said the union wants to avoid a summer vote, when many employees are on vacation.

"We just want everyone to be able to participate," Duncan said.

The last effort to unionize classified workers was in 1998, when employees voted to reject the union.

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