Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Has Carl Gatto Cooked His Goose? New Bill Sponsored By Him to End Collective Bargaining Rights For State Workers In Alaska

CNN politics writes that Sarah Palin's friend, rep. Carl Gatto, Republican Palmer, has sponsored a Bill in Alaska which would end fundamental collective bargaining rights for many public employees. Rights that would be affected are the right to “bargain for hours, benefits and working conditions.” Health and retirement benefits will likely be amongst those targeted.

Firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians have been exempted from the Bill as they provide essential services they are not permitted to go on strike under Alaska State Law.

Gatto's Bill is similar to the one passed by the Wisconsin Legislature which sparked extensive and ongoing protests and now faces a legal challenge as to its validity. Numerous other states are also considering similar Bills.

CNN interviewed Beth Kerttula, Dem Juneau, who commented that Gatto’s bill:

“would be a particularly onerous thing to drop on state employees."

Kerttula said public employees are still smarting from a 2005 overhaul of the state's retirement, pension and health care system. Kertulla called the switch "a disaster" in a state that has a difficult time retaining qualified teachers and police officers.

Kerttula also said the bill would face tough sledding in the state Senate, where unlike the GOP-controlled House, the balance of power between Republicans and Democrats is evenly divided. Kertulla, nevertheless, said the Democratic minority leadership is taking the bill seriously.

Many states, including Alaska, already face problems retaining teachers and other public employees who work for lower wages in the public sector because of the guaranteed benefits that they expect at the end of their working careers. Stripping employees of their fundamental rights to bargain collectively means that they will no longer have a voice when it comes to dealing with their employers. If Gatto’s bill passes then the State of Alaska will find it more difficult to hire quality employees and the state will suffer.

Carl Gatto declares that his bill aims to curb state costs. This seems a spurious claim as according to a recent article in the New York TimesAlaska is sitting on a 12 billion revenue surplus, a sum driven directly by the high price of oil. Taxes on oil production provide nearly 90 per cent of state revenue.” The article also affirms that Sean Parnell wants to reduce the tax burden on oil corporations which will result in a reduction of state revenue. In my opinion Gatto’s bill is an attempt to clawback some of the losses that a reduction in oil taxes will ensue.

Parnell's plan would, by one state estimate, result in up to $1.8 billion a year in revenue losses, though critics, including House Democrats, say the figure could be much higher. The estimate notes a number of "indeterminate" costs that also might factor in.

Once again corporations are the winners. It appears that Carl Gatto expects state workers to help pay for the corporations gain. Moreover, it is a two fold gain as Carl Gatto's bill will weaken public sector workers rights for the foreseeable future. It is also an idealogical one because it strikes hard at unions who speak up for their members and negotiate their benefits and working conditions.

Hopefully, as Beth Kertulla predicts, the bill will not pass through this session, but it would be unwise to think that it will be permanently shelved. I hope that State workers in Alaska are preparing themselves.



Politicalgates reader TrueGal left a comment which I would like to share.

"HBO has a fantastic documentary commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, where 146 people (mostly young women) died.It shows how important the rise of labor unions were for workplace safety. Although I've never been a union member, I'm grateful to all the people who fought hard to make changes which, today, we all seem to take for granted. The Republican agenda that rewards business owners and "corporations" at the expense of the American WORKER is horrendous, and there needs to be a massive pushback. NOW."

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