NAACP criticizes Sullivan's slavery remarks

Nathaniel Herz
Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan Wednesday defended his comparison of union membership to slavery, despite criticism from the Anchorage NAACP and the city's Central Labor Council. Loren Holmes photo

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan on Wednesday defended increasingly controversial remarks he made earlier this week comparing slavery to rules requiring union membership and payment of union dues.

The Anchorage arm of the NAACP called on Sullivan to apologize for his comments and released a statement to the Associated Press saying that the comparison “diminishes how horrible and tragic” slavery was.

Unions have also attacked Sullivan’s comments, which he made at a candidate forum Monday. Sullivan, a Republican, is running for lieutenant governor, the second-highest elected office in the state.

At the forum, Sullivan was asked if he supports right-to-work legislation, which guarantees that employees can perform work without having to join a union or pay union dues.

He responded by saying that he supports the legislation, adding, “Nobody should ever have to basically pay a fee to someone else to get a job in this state. We ended slavery a long time ago.”

He told reporters afterwards that he viewed mandatory payment of dues as “economic slavery.”

At a press conference Wednesday, Sullivan was asked to respond to the NAACP’s request. 

“I don’t think an apology is necessary, considering that the remark was made in terms of economic slavery,” he said. “Economically, if you have to pay somebody else that you don’t want to associate with just to have a job, that’s a form of economic slavery. I realize that some people think that’s a hot-button term, but it has meaning beyond just what its historical context might have been for a particular group in America.”

Sullivan has been in a high-profile battle with unions over the last year following the passage of a new city labor law in March 2013 that sharply curtailed union power.

Unions have also condemned Sullivan’s remarks. The Anchorage Central Labor Council issued its own press release Wednesday responding to what it called “inflammatory rhetoric.”

“Likening the payment of union dues, a condition of voluntary employment known well in advance by job seekers who accept represented employment, to slavery, a condition of involuntary servitude, demonstrates the depth of his misguided agenda to weaken the middle class,” the CLC said in a statement.

Contact Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com.