Fort Wainwright officials are evicting the union that represents federal employees from its office on post. And the state leader of the American Federation of Government Employees says that’s happening to AFGE locals at other federal facilities around Alaska as part of the Trump administration’s campaign to neutralize public-employee unions.
The head of the AFGE local that represents 1,000 or so federal workers on Fort Wainwright says the union and post officials have for decades maintained good relations — until recently.
“In about the last year that the relationship has completely soured,” says Local 1834 President Bill Ward.
He says that’s when Wainwright officials told him that a new federal policy requires the union to pay rent for office space on post at fair market value. Ward refused, and was told the union will have to rent space off-post.
“We got the notice that we’re evicted from the offices that we’ve been in since 1972, and that we’ve got 30 days to get out,” he said in an interview last week.
Ward says post officials also cut the amount of on-duty time he can spend working on union issues by 75 percent. The Army also tried, unsuccessfully, to decertify the union. He says Army officials cite executive orders issued last year by President Trump to justify their actions.
“The stance that we’ve given was that ‘It’s an executive order, and we have to follow it’ ” he said.
Fort Wainwright officials declined interview requests to talk about the dispute, citing ongoing collective bargaining. But they emailed a statement that says they’re evicting the local, “in accordance with Executive Order 13837, which prohibits government agencies from providing free or discounted office space to labor organizations.”
“They want to destroy the union,” says Dave Owens, the head of AFGE’s statewide office. “Their goal is to get rid of us, so we’re actually no longer a hindrance.”
Owens is the union’s national representative for Alaska, and he works with all the AFGE locals in the state, which represent about 10,500 federal employees in Alaska. He says the Trump administration claims the executive order issued in May 2018 prevents taxpayer dollars from benefiting unions. But Owens says taxpayers pay a lot more for the number of staffers that installations typically assign to handle labor issues.
“So these guys, four or five of them, 100 percent get all the time they need,” he said. “And they represent the agency against the employees. The only one the people have got is the union. … What you got on Wainwright, you’ve got one guy – Bill Ward.”
Ward says more than two dozen AFGE officials use the Wainwright office for training and other official business. Owens says it’s important for the union to have a presence on post, because it’s much easier for civilian workers to stop by during lunchtime or before or after work.
“It’s convenient to the employees,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Owens also says AFGE doesn’t have enough money to rent space, because membership has been declining due to privatization policies and a 1978 law that made union membership optional for federal workers but requires the union to represent them all. So he says Fort Wainwright’s local has accepted offers from the Laborers Union and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to use their offices in town. And he says that’s probably what the local representing workers at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson will do when base officials order it to pay rent or move.
“They’re going to kick us off the base,” he said. “That’s on JBER. That will happen within the next two months.”
JBER officials said Wednesday they’re negotiating with Local 1101, but they haven’t issued an eviction notice. Owens says Coast Guard Base Kodiak officials also are pressuring the union local representing workers there and three other bases around Southeast. Coast Guard officials deny that. But Owens says such practices are becoming widespread at federal facilities here in Alaska and the Lower 48.
“This is happening all over the country,” he said “Not just here.”
AFGE anticipates it will have to leave offices at JBER, as well as at the VA in Anchorage, some time around December or January. Those two installations have around 2,100 employees currently served by the union, according to Owens, ranging from blue collar tradesmen to office workers and nurses. The union says it’s looking for offices off-base.
Owens says AFGE has successfully fought many of the executive order’s provisions in court, and will continue to do so. But he says the most effective way to stop the campaign against public employee unions will be to defeat President Trump in the next election.
Zachariah Hughes contributed reporting in Anchorage