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Alaska needs to stand up to unions like Wisconsin did

Paul Jenkins

Imagine you are a fat cat in a public sector union in Alaska. Imagine the sick feeling as Wisconsin recall election results sink in and you know -- can feel it, even -- that the jig is up; that voters are wise to who really owns their politicians; that the halcyon days of invincibility are over.

It's a tough noogies kind of day -- Tums or tequila.

Gov. Scott Walker, despite threats, smears and the vilest imaginable slurs by people whose only real interest in Wisconsin is sucking it dry, successfully returned control of public policy in his state to voters last year. That earned him a vengeful recall savaging by unions and leftists riding the taxpayer gravy train.

Weary of cascading red ink and ever-mindful they could become the Midwest's first Greece, Wisconsin's voters rejected the recall, and suddenly public employee unions no longer are sacrosanct.

Walker is the first governor in history to face recall and win retention. That he did it in a hugely Democratic state -- the first, in 1959, to allow public employee collective bargaining -- is remarkable. It is even more notable when you consider Wisconsin, in recent polling anyway, remains Obama country. The win highlights the frustration of taxpayers of every political stripe.

Sensing that, lawmakers passed, and Walker signed into law, a controversial measure breaking what Forbes calls the iron triangle: Closed-shop, mandatory unionization; compulsory dues collection; and, fat donations to lapdog politicians. It ended most collective bargaining with public sector unions except police and firefighters. Alaska should be taking notes.

Without government muscle to enforce membership and dues collection, the Wall Street Journal says, membership in Wisconsin's public unions dropped like a lemming cartwheeling off a cliff. So much for "Workers of the World Unite."

Walker's victory was a crippling defeat for such unions nationwide. States face more than $4 trillion in debt largely because of benefits negotiated by unions and their elected pals on the other side of the table. Alaska is in the same retirement benefits boat, to the tune of $10 billion or so, for a variety of reasons. This state, where most of our 15,000 government workers are unionized, needs Wisconsin-style reform.

We certainly have ample reason. Anchorage's five-year, incredibly generous labor contracts signed by its union-backed former mayor, Mark Begich, as he schlepped out the door -- and ratified by a then-leftist Assembly without a clue of how to pay for them -- is an excellent example.

Then, at the state level, there was the bitter two-year fight to reform Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share oil tax. The unions managed, with help from pals in the Legislature, to block fixes. They wanted the fat capital budgets the confiscatory tax provides.

Unions and their Democrat pals went so far as to back phony "grassroots" organizations such as "Stand Up Alaska" and "Alaskans United to Stop Our Oil Wealth Giveaway" to provide their state senators with political cover. The media went along.

Because public sector unions are unabashedly self-serving, as the ACES battle underscored, Alaska should join Wisconsin and other states in moving to rein them in. Why should Alaskans who have no say in union decisions be forced to live with the bitter fruits of their irresponsibility -- and their political toadies' lack of good sense when it comes to crucial policy questions? Why should Alaskans be saddled with contracts negotiated behind closed doors? Alaskans should be setting state policies, not union bosses "haggling" with the very people they put into office.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to imagine the current administration in Juneau, or the Legislature, having the political will to curb public sector unions in Alaska until the very last penny has been siphoned off -- which may come sooner than many think.

Then, we will all see what labor and political leaders saw long ago -- that public sector unions are absurdities, a terrible idea threatening our system of government.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who steered us away from constitutional principles and any notion of limited government, got one thing right. Much to his credit, he consistently opposed allowing government employees to unionize and said such unions should be illegal "because they concentrate too much power in too few people."

Alaska should pay attention to FDR.

When he was right, he was right.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.


Paul Jenkins
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