The state’s largest public employee union plans to file a class action grievance against the Walker administration regarding the outsourcing of design work within the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities.
“That is a clear violation of our contract and we don’t intend to stand by and let that go unchallenged,” Jim Duncan, executive director of the Alaska State Employees Association, said by phone Friday.
Last week, the governor released his fiscal year 2018 budget, which announced the plan to outsource all DOT design work to contractors by FY2019. That amounts to the initial elimination of 76 design positions and “up to 300 more to follow in future budgets,” according to the budget overview.
Doing this will not only continue to “cut government,” it “has the added advantage of bolstering the private sector economy,” as stated in the budget overview.
Article 13 of the 3-year collective bargaining agreement between ASEA, which represents the general government unit, and the State of Alaska that started this past July states, “Decisions to contract out shall be made only after the affected agency has conducted a written feasibility study determining the potential costs and benefits that would result from contracting out the work in question.”
If the decision is made to contract out work and it results in lost positions, the state needs to notify the union and the union has 30 days to submit an alternate plan.
The bargaining agreement between the state and the Alaska Public Employees Association, another union affected by the design outsourcing, has similar language. APEA business manager Pete Ford said by phone Friday the union doesn’t, at this time, plan to file a grievance. APEA represents the supervisory unit.
Even though the Governor’s budget is a proposal, in Duncan’s mind, the damage has been done.
“He’s made the decision to reduce the number of state employees doing this work and move the money to bolster the private sector economy. That’s a clear statement in the governor’s budget and that tells me the decision has been made,” Duncan said. “If he would’ve said, ‘We intend to do a feasibility study,’ maybe it wouldn’t be a violation right now, but he’s clearly violated the requirement in our contract that feasibility studies need to be done before the decision has been made.”
DOT anticipates that a request for proposals for a feasibility study will be issued around the end of January at the earliest, according to DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow. He said DOT is responsible for conducting the feasibility studies.
“We want to have the information that needs to be presented before the administration, before the Legislature, before the unions as quickly as possible so we can move forward with the decision-making process,” Woodrow said.
Woodrow stated, “a feasibility study of this nature, at least to anyone’s knowledge, has not been performed.”
“We’re talking about up to 300 staff persons. It’s not like there’s a planning sheet of, ‘These are the steps you need to follow when you’re talking about laying off 300 people,’” he said.
Budget documents describing the design outsourcing do not mention any fiscal savings. Duncan said outsourcing design could cost the state twice as much as doing the work in-house.
“This is nothing more than just a political play to those who are demanding less state government and less state employees,” he said.
At a Dec. 19 quarterly meeting between DOT commissioner Marc Luiken and about a hundred DOT employees in Juneau, Luiken said the call is to reduce state government and this is Walker’s way of doing that.
“In Luiken’s words that I’ve heard him say many times, ‘Reduce the size of government at all costs,’” Woodrow said. “There is a call from legislators to reduce the size of state government and that’s not necessarily just by the cost of state government but also the actual position numbers.”
DOT currently contracts 55 percent of all design work, according to the governor’s budget narrative.
“They’ve quietly been doing that over the years. Every time we’ve negotiated a contract, we have demanded that they stop ding that. We have asked for studies and they’ve refused to give them because they’ve not done them,” Duncan said. “To go to this step now is way beyond what I ever expected from Governor Walker. I’m surprised and shocked at how he’s approached this.”
Duncan said the class action grievance will be filed on Tuesday.