Although Dennis Gellhouse is free to form his own opinion about the quality of the recent tentative agreement between the Alaska State Employees Association and the State of Alaska, it appears necessary to dispel some false conclusions that he asserted in a recent My Turn column.
Dennis omits significant information about health payment reimbursement in order to underscore his criticism of this contract. The tentative agreement does indeed cover the projected increase in health care payments for union members. If the contract is ratified and subsequently approved by the Legislature, the labor agreement ensures that members will be credited in a retroactive fashion for increased payments until the terms of the contract can be funded.
The Legislature will appropriate money for the contract during its next session. The rebate will reflect the amount each member has paid toward their health insurance up to the funding of the contract. Should the Legislature fail to fund the contract, then the union and state's negotiating teams have agreed to return to the table to resume bargaining.
I agree with Dennis that the "strong support of an informed membership" is "fundamental to a union achieving success at the bargaining table." The Juneau Chapter of ASEA formed the State Worker Action Team (SWAT), which recruited 188 union activists who were educated as to how to obtain and communicate good information to co-workers. The team successfully held 21 work site meetings in five weeks and handed out 800 information/strike packets to the membership.
The best and brightest of this union are the many state workers who have been willing to engage in volunteerism and advocacy on behalf of a larger community. It is my observation that those people with the most to lose were those willing to make the greatest effort. It has been my honor to work with and for them.
Juneau Chapter President
ASEA/AFSCME Local 52