Public's interests not currently represented at state negotiations

What others say

Posted: Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Despite the howls and distortions from unions that want to continue to be represented on both sides of the table when negotiating state labor contracts, Gov. Frank Murkowski is on the right track in trying to end the practice.

The governor has introduced measures in both chambers of the Legislature Senate Bill 352 and House Bill 518 aimed at amending the Public Employment Relations Act to end the insane status quo.

He wants to remove from union protection those who perform ''confidential or managerial'' work for the state. Those workers are supposed to represent state interests in union negotiations and personnel matters.

Murkowski rightly sees the current law as fostering a serious conflict of interest by allowing managers and confidential employees to participate in collective bargaining in effect, having unions on both sides of the negotiating table.

While some would mislead the public by claiming Murkowski's aim is to open the way for more political appointments, even labeling his legislation the ''crony bill,'' it actually would get union cronies out of management.

There is nothing really novel about Murkowski's plan. This is the only state in the nation that allows confidential workers to be in collective bargaining units on a statewide basis. And only two other states allow managers to be in unions. The practice puts the public interest in the back seat when it is time to negotiate union contracts.

If the proposal becomes law, classified workers and managers would have their status changed to ''classified, but excluded.'' The Alaska Labor Relations Agency would make the call on who would receive the new designation. Those in the new category still would be protected by constitutional and statutory requirements. They would be subject to merit hire, merit promotions and could be fired only for cause. The state Personnel Board would resolve labor beefs.

Murkowski is right in concluding that state workers in key management and bargaining positions should represent the public employer's interests first. There certainly should not be union workers on both sides of the negotiating table. The governor's legislation would end that, and bring Alaska's collective bargaining laws into line with other states and private industry. And it would recognize sensible federal exclusions of classified employees and managers from bargaining.

The only people who win under current practices are those in state employee unions. The public, without representation at the table by people who put its interest first, gets only the short end of the stick.

Past administrations, recognizing the problem, have tried to resolve the issue without success. Make no mistake, it needs to be fixed.

Hopefully, this is the year.

The Voice of the (Anchorage) Times - March 18

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