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Alaska's largest public sector union sues state to compel COVID-19 protections

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Thursday that the state has seen its first positive case of COVID-19 the novel coronavirus. (KTUU)
Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Thursday that the state has seen its first positive case of COVID-19 the novel coronavirus. (KTUU)(KTUU)
Published: Mar. 25, 2020 at 10:46 AM AKDT
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Alaska's largest public sector union is seeking a court order to increase protections for state employees from the impacts of COVID-19.

The Alaska State Employees Association filed a motion for a temporary restraining order in the Anchorage Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon. The order would compel the state to have most state employees work remotely.

The union wants non-essential employees unable to telework to be sent home. The proposed order also states that social distancing rules and staggered work hours must be put in place in government offices.

Jake Metcalfe, the executive director of the ASEA, said by telephone that there have been “inconsistent messages” from the governor’s office on the coronavirus. Some businesses have been compelled to close while state government offices stay open, Metcalfe said.

Metcalfe says if an essential employee such as a nurse or law enforcement officer is required to work that they must be provided with protective equipment.

The lawsuit also has a motion for expedited consideration.

The union sent a petition with 400 member signatures to the Dunleavy administration, demanding changes. Metcalfe said that warnings were made to the administration that a court battle was coming but the ASEA received no response from officials.

Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson and Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka released a statement saying that the state “places the safety of its workforce as a priority,” before continuing to say that “the State provides many essential services and it is not responsible for the State to completely close down all of its offices and allow everyone to go on Administrative Leave."

Protective measures are being implemented, according to Tshibaka and Clarkson, that include staggered hours and allowing more work from home.

The statement from Clarkson and Tshibaka suggests that the unions and the state should work together. “For example, the unions could help message to their members the need to practice safe distancing at work and encourage using protective measures such as using gloves to open doors and washing hands often.”

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