Union employees and supporters gathered in front of the Alaska State Capitol to let the Dunleavy administration and Legislature know they oppose the proposed cuts to the operating budget that would eliminate hundreds of jobs. Many state workers belong to unions.
“2-4-6-8, We need to save our state,” the group of about 150 people chanted at noon Wednesday.
The ferry system is facing a $97 million cut that could eliminate 253 union jobs, prompting the Inland Boatman’s Union to participate in the rally too. Most union members who were approached were apprehensive to speak to the Empire, and others would only do so off-record.
But they made their voices heard with their signs in front of the Capitol. Conan Leegard, an IBU member who stands 6-foot, 11-inches tall, held a sign that read, “Stand Tall for Ferries.” Another IBU member carried a sign that read, “Alaskans for the Ferries, Ferries for Alaskans.”
IBU member Robb Arnold, who has worked for the ferry system since 2006, said he has never seen better turnout from the local IBU members.
“I was very impressed by the turnout,” Arnold said. “The Inland Boatman’s Union really cares. People are seeing the importance of what it means to the community.”
“We want to work with the governor. It’s one of our main messages,” Arnold added.
Among the rally’s speakers was Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau. Kiehl said the proposed job cuts would “see the neediest left out in the cold.”
“We’re in a fight for Alaska’s future,” Kiehl told the crowd from the steps of the Capitol. “So if we want healthy families, and a prosperous economy, the kind of Alaska where want to live, or want to raise our kids or we want grandkids to do well, we can’t afford this budget!”
Kiehl reminded the crowd the budget proposal is not set in stone.
“Here’s the beautiful thing when they founded the American Republic, 200 and some-odd years ago. They’d read about tyrants,” Kiehl said. “They know you don’t put all the power in any one person, or their out-of-state budget director. This proposal is just that. It’s a proposal. Now we get to work, your elected leaders.”
Kiehl encouraged the crowd to call their representatives and senators and make their voices heard.
“Let your elected leaders know, Alaskans can’t afford the Dunleavy budget,” Kiehl said.
Laura Mulgrew, who is president of the Juneau Education Association and member of the National Education Association, spoke too, saying this is an attack on education. Dunleavy’s budget proposal would cut more than $300 million from the state’s education budget, which is about a quarter of the education budget. The Base Student Allocation would be lowered from about $5,930 per student to $4,800 per student. The Juneau School District alone would lose more than $13 million, which would result in a cutting more than 100 teachers and staff.
“The price of a barrel of oil is no way to determine the worth of our students,” Mulgrew told the crowd.
Alaska State Employees Association Local 52 President Dawn Burdick, said she was concerned for the budget.
“I’m here to encourage our legislators to support working families, fund contracts, and support our state workers,” Burdick said.
Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami, was not at the rally but issued a written statement Tuesday.
”We built Alaska. We love Alaska. We educate Alaskans. We protect Alaska. And now we are going to have to step up and protect her from this attack on our state and our values. Alaskans, regardless of party want the same things: good schools, safe communities, a high quality of life and a safe place to raise our kids. This budget fails in every respect,” Beltrami said.
• Contact reporter Kevin Baird at 523-2258 or firstname.lastname@example.org.