Management initiative would eliminate divided loyalties, not produce cronies

Working in state's best interests

Posted: Friday, March 05, 2004

The Murkowski administration has introduced legislation designed to create a long-term, professional managerial class of state employees, free from the divided loyalty of union membership or political appointment. The bill (Senate Bill 352 and House Bill 318) does this by defining "manager" in the same way as the National Labor Relations Act. This in turn would exclude a small group of managers from union coverage.

Public employee unions have reacted against the legislation with large newspaper ads, charging "cronyism." Alaskans deserve to know the truth about the legislation and why we want to have state managers free of union loyalties.

The governor and his political appointees decide the state's destination, chart the course and sail the ship of state. The governor is committed to making the changes to state government necessary to get Alaska's fiscal house in order. We need a strong, dedicated cadre of professional state managers who make policy-level decisions to implement the changes. Approximately 200 to 400 of these state managers are currently in unions. Yet, they need to be able to make their decisions based on how to get the work done most efficiently and economically, not on the basis of what is best for a union.

The union contracts that currently cover the potentially affected employees expire June 30. Both the state and the unions seek to negotiate new three-year agreements. The legislation removing the state's managers from the unions must be passed during this legislative session or the opportunity to make this vital change will be lost for three years.

Since public sector collective bargaining began 30 years ago, the state has not had a long-term, professional management team, as that term is understood and applies in almost every other state and in the private sector. In the state's divisions where the work is done every single employee below the politically appointed director is in a union. Even the people who go to the bargaining table to represent the state in negotiations with other public employee unions are themselves unionized. We need to remove this conflict of interest/divided loyalty problem from the state's management team.

The Alaska Constitution mandates that we hire almost all of our employees under a "merit system," free from political interference. While, under existing law, we could seek to reclassify many of the people who might be affected by this law into political appointees, we believe that our founders got it right very few state employees should be political appointees. The people with the experience and knowledge to deliver vital state services should not be subject to "political turnover" every time a new governor takes office.

The proposed legislation does not create even one additional political appointee. It does remove the current potential conflict of having

managers who are also union members being tasked to make policy decisions that affect their own union and their fellow union members.

Here are some examples: Under the current system, a manager may have several levels of supervisors below him or her. If he or she has performance problems with one of those subordinates, those problems may wind up in a union grievance, in which the union that represents the

subordinate also represents the higher-level employee who took the action.

Or, a member of the state's labor relations staff may decide that a union contract term should be interpreted in a way with which his or her own union disagrees. Where should that employee's loyalties lie?

And, if the employee disagrees with the union, just how enthusiastically might the union represent that employee should he or she later have a disagreement with the employer?

These are the types of conflicts that have been inherent in state management and supervision for the last 30 years.

We do not want cronies. We want smart, dedicated employees who do not have divided loyalties. And, we do not want those employees to be conflicted by having to weigh the state's interests against the unions' interests. The people of Alaska deserve a class of managerial public employees whose only loyalty is to getting the people's work done over the long term.

Mike Miller is the commissioner of the state Department of Administration under Gov. Frank Murkowski.

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