While I consider Kyle a friend, I strongly disagree with the stance he has taken on PERA.
As the union organizer and president of SPEA, I have learned several things over the last year and a half. Those lessons have solidified my belief that all public employees, no matter their employer or union affiliation, should have the same rights. PERA ensures this, and while there are numerous advantages for both Seward citizens and workers under PERA, I’d like to share three.
First, most of Alaska’s wage and hour laws do not cover government employees – only the city code does. What that means is if an employee is cheated out of pay, for example, in violation of city code, they must hire an attorney and take the matter to civil court. This is very costly and prohibits most employees from receiving the due process they deserve. This would change under PERA.
Second, while the current city council has voted to recognize our hard-won contract, there is no legal accountability for future councils to continue this recognition. This creates uncertainty for workers who should just be able to focus on their work and serving Seward residents.
The board that adjudicates issues under PERA is made up of two representatives from administration backgrounds, two representatives from labor, and two representatives from the public. No more than three of these board members may be of any one political party. In my opinion, there could not be a more fair board.
Third, giving workers access to a set of fair labor standards does not compromise the City of Seward’s ability to independently govern. It does, however, safeguard against potential abuse in our system from both the council and our union.
The idea that Seward citizens can cherry-pick favorable parts of PERA ignores the reality that workers have very little recourse in a system that depends on changing political climates. The truth is that access to an impartial and accountable labor board is exactly what Seward workers need to freely participate in the political decisions that affect them without fear of retaliation.
In other words, PERA is about workers’ rights – union or not.
Voting yes on PERA means you support the rights of all working men and women who serve the City of Seward, regardless of city limits signs.
Patrick Messmer is the president of the Seward Public Employees Association.