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1998 Highlights

The Agency continued to assist in establishing an active Alaska chapter of the Industrial Relations Research Association (IRRA). On January 20, 1998, the national office of IRRA announced that its Executive Board approved the Alaska Chapter's affiliation. IRRA is the one organization in the country in which professionals from all aspects of industrial relations and human resources can share ideas and learn about new developments and practices in the field. IRRA sponsors research and publishes the results of that research. It promotes education and provides a forum for the exchange of ideas on employment issues. IRRA does not take partisan positions on policy issues; rather, it serves as a resource to labor and management professionals, including advocates and neutrals, government, and the academic community. An active Alaska chapter provides Alaska employment professionals with opportunities for networking and training, and it serves as a resource within the state.

The chapter met twice in 1998 -- February 16 and June 16. David Stewart, Human Resources Manager at the state Department of Labor, spoke at the February meeting. He discussed use of the Internet to research labor relations information, and he provided several useful web sites. The June 16 meeting was highlighted by a presentation on interest based (or mutual gains) bargaining by Elizabeth Atkinson, Industrial Relations Specialist with the Alaska Radar System Project. Ms. Atkinson provides training to labor organizations that want to apply interest based bargaining in contract negotiations. Atkinson asserted that this approach to bargaining differs significantly from traditional bargaining. The parties who succeed under this approach continue to communicate after signing a collective bargaining agreement. These ongoing discussions address the practical effects of, and potential changes to the agreement. Anyone interested in improving labor relations and human resources in Alaska is urged to join and get involved in IRRA.

The agency underwent significant personnel changes that affected caseload activity in 1998. The longtime administrator/hearing examiner resigned in November 1997. The position remained vacant for three months. During this period, the hearing officer was appointed acting administrator, and these duties became a priority. Thus, completion of her regular caseload duties (including investigations of unfair labor practices and unit clarifications) was delayed during this period and also the period of assisting the new administrator. In addition, the administrative clerk III position was vacant from November 1997 to February 1998, leaving the agency 50% staffed. The clerk position was also vacant during a six-week period in the second quarter of 1998.

The number of cases filed in 1998 totaled 106, compared to 156 in 1997. Although this is a 32 percent decrease, the agency still has a significant backlog due to the large number of cases filed in the 1995 to 1997 period. The 1996 caseload increased 62 percent over the 1995 caseload. The average number of annual filings in the 1995 to 1998 period was 149, compared to an average of 84 during the 1991 to 1994 period. Due to the lean budget, the agency continued to work this rising caseload with the same number of staff members.

Unit clarification (UC) petitions continue to represent the largest number of cases filed, with 66 petitions filed in 1998. These petitions address the question of the supervisory status of various state employees, with only a few exceptions. The supervisory status of a state employee determines the employee's unit placement, or bargaining unit. While the question who is a supervisor affects all state employee bargaining units, the dispute is mainly between the State, the Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA), which represents the general government unit, and the Alaska Public Employees Association (APEA), which represents the supervisors' unit. Although the question has been litigated before the agency in the past, the recent increase in the number of petitions stems from a 1995 amendment to the agency's regulation defining "supervisory employee." The validity of this amendment has been challenged in the courts. The Alaska Superior Court affirmed the regulation's validity, but that decision has been appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, and is pending there.

In an effort to improve production and reduce the caseload backlog, the agency implemented streamlining procedures for unit clarification petitions. This new procedure, started during the second quarter of 1998, has enabled the agency to complete investigations more quickly and resolve a larger number of cases than in the past. (See "Final Disposition" data in chart at page 7, and discussion at page 13).

Filings in unfair labor practice (ULP) charges decreased from 40 in 1997 to 22 in 1998. The issue in 45 percent of the charges was bad faith bargaining. These 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 23 percent of the charges was interference with protected rights such as organizing and collective bargaining.

Because of the agency's efforts to avoid getting overwhelmed by the increasing unit clarification caseload, completion of unfair labor practice investigations was delayed. Effective January 1, 1999, the agency implemented a new investigative procedure designed to reduce the time needed to complete investigations. Because this procedure affects only new cases, and not petitions filed in prior years, the number of days to conclude investigations (see chart at page 19) will continue to rise until pre-1999 cases are completed.

The number of election petitions filed in 1998 (8) is a reduction of 1 from 1997's total. Seven petitions sought to certify a bargaining representative, and one petition sought to decertify the current representative and certify a new bargaining representative. The agency conducted 6 elections. In one election, the agency certified a large bargaining unit in the Public Safety Employees Association (PSEA), which filed a petition to represent corrections officers I, II, and III who were represented by ASEA. The election results favored the new bargaining unit represented by PSEA. The outcome of the election activity in 1998 was a net increase in the number of public employees covered by collective bargaining.

The number of strike petitions increased from 2 to 4 over the previous year. This increase may be attributed in part to the expiration of multi-year contracts between employers and labor organizations. Two strike vote petitions involved disputes between the Anchorage School District and two bargaining units, including support personnel represented by TOTEM Association of Educational Support Personnel, Inc., and bus drivers represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, General Teamsters Local 959, AFL-CIO.

The agency continues to emphasize informal resolution of disputes. As a result, 15 unfair labor practice charges were resolved informally in 1998. This compares to 20 such resolutions in 1997 and 14 in 1996. In addition, the agency's hearing officer/investigator has worked with parties in structured conciliation sessions to settle unfair labor practice charges.

The labor relations community and others interested in public sector labor relations can access agency information on its internet web site, which became available in December of 1996. The site is accessible through the State of Alaska's home page (http://www.state.ak.us) 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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