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1997 Highlights

1997 was the year that the agency, in conjunction with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, spearheaded establishment of an Alaska Chapter of the Industrial Relations Research Association (IRRA). IRRA consists of representatives of labor, management, and government, and academics, advocates, and neutrals. It is the one organization in the country where professionals in all aspects of industrial relations and human resources gather to share ideas and learn about new developments, practices, and issues in the field.

A primary agency goal in establishing the Alaska Chapter of IRRA is to have IRRA sponsor labor relations conferences similar to the one this agency held in 1996. Limited agency staff and resources necessitate assistance with this function. The Alaska Chapter of IRRA has 33 members. Its bylaws were adopted on November 7, 1997, and approved by the National Industrial Relations Research Association at the winter conference.

In August of 1997, the agency, the Alaska Chapter of IRRA, and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) cosponsored a visit from Doug Hammond, Director of Mediation Services, at FMCS for the Pacific Northwest states. Mr. Hammond traveled throughout the state addressing a number of groups on the subjects of labor management cooperation for a better workplace and mediation services that are available through FMCS. Public forums were provided in Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks and presentations were made to labor and management representatives of a number of groups, including the Alaska Railroad Corporation, the utilities, the University of Alaska, the Anchorage School District, the State of Alaska, the Alaska AFL-CIO, and Fairbanks area labor and management officials. Mr. Hammond substituted on very short notice for FMCS Director John Calhoun Wells, who was forced to cancel his trip to Alaska because he was mediating the impasse between UPS and the Teamsters. Director Wells has expressed an interest in meeting with members of the Alaska labor relations community in 1998.

The number of cases filed in 1997 was 156, compared to 206 in 1996. Although this is a 24 percent decrease, the agency still has a significant backlog due to the large number of cases filed in both 1996 and 1997. The 1996 caseload increased 62 percent over the 1995 caseload. Unit clarification petitions continue to represent the largest number of cases filed, with 94 petitions filed in 1997. The unit clarification caseload concerns the question of the supervisory status of various state employees, with only a few exceptions. The supervisory status of a state employee determines the unit placement of the employee. While the question who is a supervisor affects all state employee bargaining units, the dispute is mainly among the State, the Alaska State Employees Association, which represents the general government unit, and the Alaska Public Employees Association, which represents the supervisory employees’ unit. While the question has been frequently litigated before the agency in the past, the recent increase in the number of petitions is due to an amendment to the agency’s regulation defining "supervisory employee," which was effective on April 14, 1995. The amendment is being tested in a number of cases pending before the board and the Superior Court.

The number of unfair labor practice charges increased, from 31 in 1996 to 40 in 1997. The issue in 33 percent of the charges filed was bad faith bargaining. Bad faith bargaining charges usually arise in the context of collective bargaining when one of the parties to the negotiations believes the other party is not bargaining in good faith. The issue in 30 percent of the cases was interference with protected rights, such as the employees’ rights to self-organize and form, join or assist an organization to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection. The number of charges regarding the rights of individual employees remained the same as in 1996, with 3 charges filed.

The number of election petitions filed in 1997--9--is a reduction of 1 from the number filed in 1996. 6 petitions sought to certify a bargaining representative, and 2 petitions sought to decertify the representative. The agency conducted 7 elections. A large bargaining unit it certified was the adjunct faculty of the University of Alaska. The outcome of the election activity in 1997 was a net increase in the number of public employees covered by collective bargaining. One school district bargaining unit, represented by the Anchorage Council of Education, affiliated with Alaska Public Employees Association/AFT, AFL-CIO.

The number of strike petitions decreased from 10 to 2 petitions. The decrease can be attributed in part to the number of multi-year contracts that are in place between employers and labor organizations. The one strike vote petition that was filed involved a dispute between the Alaska Community Colleges’ Federation of Teachers and the University of Alaska. There were no work stoppages in 1997.

The agency continues to emphasize informal resolution to the parties. Results can be seen in the number of unfair labor practice charges that were resolved informally in 1997. The number increased from 14 in 1996 to 20 in 1997. Increasing the number of charges resolved informally is another reason for educating parties about available mediation services. This emphasis on informal resolution was a reason for joining with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and Alaska Chapter of IRRA in sponsoring the August conferences in Juneau, Anchorage, and Fairbanks. In addition, the agency’s hearing officer/investigator continues to work with parties in structured conciliation sessions to settle unfair labor practice charges.

Other agency initiatives in 1997 included the distribution of a quarterly agency newsletter to members of the Alaska labor relations community. The labor relations community and any others with an interest in public sector labor relations are able to access the agency on its Internet site, which became available in December of 1996. It can be reached through the state’s home page or directly at http://www.labor.state.ak.us/laborr/laborr.htm. Agency staff can be contacted electronically and information about agency programs and resources is also available.

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