Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Organized Labor is Under Attack in Alaska and Corporate Money is the Reason Why

This week, the People's Governor™, through his Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, filed a lawsuit against state employees--specifically the ASEA--which is the main state employee union. Its members perform invaluable tasks like plowing your roads in the winter, extinguishing wildfires in the summer, fixing potholes in the spring, and processing your PFD checks in the fall. 

James Brooks at the Anchorage Daily News has a good summary of the whole story here, which I won't reiterate. But I do want to add some context as someone who worked at the Department of Law for over 12 years and whose grandfather gave seven years of his life to federal prison for union organizing.

It is very rare for the Attorney General to initiate litigation against anyone, much less the state's own union. With the exception of consumer protection cases and amicus briefs, the state typically defends--not prosecutes--civil cases. 

And the AG is not using his own perfectly competent employees to litigate the case, either. Many of them didn't even know the suit was coming at all. Instead, he's hired an Outside DC law firm, Consovoy McCarthy, to do the job at a "discounted" rate of $600 per hour on a $50,000 contract. This is a bargain from their usual rate of $900 or so. Last I checked, Assistant Attorneys General (i.e. line attorneys in the Department of Law) charge their clients less than $200 per hour. Most private practice attorneys in Alaska charge between $200 and $300 per hour. To be fair, the state has hired this firm to work as amicus counsel on controversial issues before, but never to mount a direct assault on its own employees.

Dermot Cole addresses the whole debacle here. Suffice it to say that hiring a white shoe east coast law firm to bust the biggest employee union in Alaska for eye-popping fees at a time when elders face bankruptcy and the sick face death thanks to the Governor's drastic budget cuts is not a good look. This firm also represents President Trump as his personal lawyers in Trump's financial shenanigans, and apparently has filed, or is filing, similar cases around the country against unions in other union-hostile states. One look at the complaint tells you it's a cut and paste job.

The Attorney General is pretending this ASEA case is all about state employees' First Amendment Rights. That's disingenuous AF. 

As readers of this blog know, AAG Ruth Botstein and I were fired for exercising our First Amendment rights in speaking out against President Trump. My firing is the subject of separate litigation brought on my behalf by the ACLU, which also sued separately on behalf of two state psychiatrists who refused to sign the now-"retired" Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock's "loyalty pledge." 

But, I digress. 

The point is, Kevin Clarkson doesn't care about state employees' First Amendment rights. Or at least, he wants to selectively apply the First Amendment. In Clarkson's world, the First Amendment is convenient when you're a religious zealot crusading against LGBTQ rights, or a corporate shill trying to bust unions. But freedom of speech can go straight to hell the minute anyone dares to criticize government officials out loud.

You might wonder why the AG is throwing so much money at neutering unions, and surprise surprise, the answer is more money. 

Unions are bad for the corporate bottom line, corporations are all about the bottom line, they have bought themselves at least two branches of government, and they are hard at work on the third. 

The greatest trick the corporate right ever pulled was convincing the working class right that unions were bad for them. But left or right, working class folks are never going to be millionaires courtesy of the American Dream or the largesse of those above them in the pecking order. People like Clarkson and those he works for and hires are making damn sure of that. The whole game is rigged, and absent some seismic shift in business as usual, the best we can do as a society is put some sideboards on greed by creating a fair labor market in which workers have basic rights like unemployment insurance, workers' compensation, overtime pay, and the weekend.

Tuckerman Babcock is gone, Donna Arudin is gone, and Clarkson and Dunleavy both seem to be gunning for jobs in DC. I'll bet you your union dues that the Governor resigns before he can face a recall. So if you're looking for people in high places and positions of power who have real Alaskans' interests at heart, you definitely won't find them in Alaska.

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