Judge rules state violated firefighters' rights

Posted: Wednesday, October 04, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A judge has ruled that the state violated the constitutional rights of firefighters stationed at Kulis Air National Guard Base in Anchorage by forcing them to be in the military as a condition of employment.

The ruling, by Superior Court Judge Rene Gonzalez, covers a dozen firefighters employed by the state and stationed at Kulis. If it stands, then the net effect would be that firefighters could get out of the National Guard, as some want to do, and still keep their jobs on base.

The state has not decided whether to appeal.

The firefighters are a blend of civilian and military worker. They're civilians when working their regular firefighting shifts, but they're considered members of the military when they pull National Guard duty one weekend a month and two weeks a year. They also are subject to being called into active duty service at any time.

''This creates significantly different working conditions than for other state employees,'' said Jay Trumble, general counsel for the Alaska State Employees Association.

Assistant Attorney General Dave Jones said the requirement helped the Guard fill its 24 part-time firefighter positions, because all 12 state firefighters also had to work part-time for the Guard.

The military membership promoted teamwork and gave the firefighters a higher priority to get into specialized training programs Outside, Jones said.

''In the unlikely event of a terrorist attack on Kulis,'' the state argued, ''the military training that the firefighters receive will assist them in protecting themselves and others on base.''

But Judge Gonzalez didn't find those arguments very convincing.

If the firefighters want to retire from the Guard to end their military duty, they automatically lose their state jobs, he said. In addition, after they've worked for the Guard for 20 years, they can be terminated from the military selectively, and also would lose their state job under the existing system.

''In conclusion, the state has failed to offer compelling evidence or persuasive arguments that the Alaska Air National Guard requirement bears a close relationship to an important government interest,'' the judge wrote.

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