We shouldn’t federalize Alaska’s public-safety union monopoly

Thanks to John McCain’s selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, many people across the country are for the first time learning about how her state’s law authorizing union “exclusive” bargaining over public-safety and other government employees works in practice. And it’s not a pretty picture.

The Last Frontier’s public-sector labor law, like the labor laws of many other states, hands police, firefighter and other union officials monopoly power to speak for all public-safety employees, including union members and nonmembers alike, on a wide range of workplace issues.

Such monopoly bargaining laws, which strip individual employees of the right to bargain for themselves, are clearly harmful to taxpayers. They are plainly beneficial, however, to bad employees such as Alaska state trooper Mike Wooten.

Palin critics nationwide have been bringing up Wooten, her former brother-in-law, a lot recently, because the governor supposedly applied improper pressure on his boss, Walt Monegan, to fire him.

But fair-minded people who find out a little about Wooten are bound to conclude that the real scandal is why he wasn’t fired well before Palin became governor.

By the time Palin was inaugurated in December 2006, an internal state trooper investigation had concluded he had used a Taser on his 10-year-old stepson, illegally shot a moose, drank beer in a patrol car and told others his father-in-law would eat a “lead bullet” if he helped his daughter get an attorney for the divorce.

Apparently because of intense public-safety union lobbying on Wooten’s behalf, instead of being fired for breaking the law and violating trooper policies, he was suspended for 10 days in March 2006.

In states with public-sector monopoly-bargaining laws, government executives are not free simply to fire public employees for misconduct — even if that misconduct has been confirmed, as was the case with Wooten, by an extensive internal investigation.

Union bosses who thought even a 10-day suspension was too severe a punishment for a trooper who had, over his mother’s loud protests, used a Taser on a child and made death threats would certainly have fought tooth and nail to keep Wooten from being fired.

And all too often in such cases, government managers decide they would rather kowtow to union bosses than face a drawn-out public battle.

Public-safety monopoly bargaining is now Alaskans’ problem. But soon Congress could make it the whole country’s problem.

In July 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives rubber-stamped H.R. 980, legislation that would federalize the public-safety monopoly-bargaining system that has kept Wooten on the job. Senate companion legislation (S. 2123) that would also mandate public-safety monopoly bargaining nationwide is now supported by a majority of senators.

The Wooten story presents an illustration of why Congress and the president should under no circumstances federalize Alaska’s public-safety monopoly-bargaining system. It’s time to ask every candidate running for the House and Senate this year to take a public stand in opposition to legislation like S. 2123 and H.R. 980.

Stan Greer is the senior research associate for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research.

‘Troopergate’

A rundown of the controversy surrounding Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and state trooper Mike Wooten:

  • The Alaska Legislature is probing whether Palin fired former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan because he would not dismiss trooper Mike Wooten. Wooten went through a messy divorce from Palin’s sister.
  • Wooten, 36, admits using a Taser on his stepson, but said he poses no threat to the Palin family and didn’t drink in his patrol car as they alleged in a 2005 complaint before Palin was elected governor.
  • Palin has said she did not fire Monegan because of Wooten. However, last month she disclosed contact between members of her administration and the state troopers, questioning Wooten’s employment.

Source: Associated Press

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