Union files grievance over Habitat Division changes

Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A state employees union has filed a grievance over layoffs that will result from Gov. Frank Murkowski's executive order to eliminate the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Habitat Division.

''We see contract violations,'' said Jim Duncan, business manager for the Alaska State Employees Association, the largest union representing state workers.

Some 22 Habitat employees will lose their jobs May 1 unless the Legislature overturns the executive order. Remaining Habitat employees will shift to the Department of Natural Resources or other sections of Fish and Game. Their authority to issue permits protecting fish and wildlife habitat will go to DNR, the main state agency that encourages and regulates natural resource development such as oil and gas, mining and logging.

As one of his first acts as governor, Murkowski decided that the Habitat Division needed to go. Its biologists too often have delayed projects by holding up permits or demanding unnecessary studies or other paperwork because of personal agendas to protect the environment, Murkowski said.

The governor and his spokesman, John Manly, gave several examples of projects the biologists apparently delayed for no good reason. Habitat Division supervisors wrote detailed memos rebutting Murkowski's claims.

The Legislature held hearings on the executive order and most people opposed the move. Besides Murkowski's plan to eliminate the Longevity Bonus, the Habitat move has garnered more public outcry than any other issue this legislative session, Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, has said.

Union officials heard the governor's statements about Habitat. They also looked into his arguments that shifting Habitat permitting to DNR will make government more efficient. The grievance filed with the state Personnel Division contends that Habitat biologists and staff have been unfairly targeted, Duncan said. If the administration and the union cannot agree, the matter will go to arbitration, he said.

Dan Saddler, a Murkowski spokesman, said Friday that the administration had no comment on the grievance.

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