How power corrupts

Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Let's assume that a recent Empire letter writer is correct that Juneau needs to be more "government friendly" in the face of any in the business community who say it needs to be more "business friendly" to stave off an upcoming attempt to move the capital.

That writer said there appear to be those who "... want to keep the capital only if we can have the payroll but not the employees."

If true, whose fault would that be? Do the people of Juneau really despise state employees because they protect the environment, enforce worker safety laws, send out Permanent Fund checks, and the myriad of other duties assigned by law? Does business only respect people who cater to the needs of business and neglect requirements of living in a civilized society? I don't think so.

Rather, Alaska state employment during the Knowles Administration has become a symbol of how power corrupts. In violation of the Merit Principle in the Alaska Constitution this workforce has become an extension of one man's never-ending campaign for higher office. Workers in state government are supposed to be hired for what they know, not who they know, and a lot of self-respecting people won't be a part of it anymore. The "Workplace Alaska" top-down hiring scheme further assures a closed system of state employment that feeds upon itself.

It is easy to scapegoat state employees who are being pushed to the back of the plane by Anchorage union bosses in collusion with management for a mutual political agenda. The terms of state employment from pay provisions to a new union-controlled health trust are constantly diminishing employee morale and confidence with very little consideration of what employees themselves know to promote a respectful and productive workforce. The possibility of contracting out virtually anything that might bring in political chips looms mightily. And, for many Alaskans a career of being a second-class citizen, driven daily by bully supervisors until something inevitable happens, is unthinkable.

The Juneau business community should be concerned about the diminished buying power of state employees who have had little to do with capital move efforts coming from the north. Likewise, state employees have had a small role in the pending catastrophe Juneau is facing because they have little to say even about who runs their own union. Instead of pointing fingers and asking who is the greater victim, it's time we in Southeast Alaska faced reality: The plane has been diverted to the railbelt by bigger business, and state employees in the General Government Unit were hijacked during the last contract negotiations by little guys with box cutters.

Donn Liston


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