Alaska News

Felony charges in University of Alaska unionizing scam

A former Alaska assistant attorney general and a former union organizer who were caught stealing shoes from Fred Meyer in December 2010 face new charges related to forging signatures and altering documents for a union drive involving Alaska's largest union.

Skye Rubadeau McRoberts, who worked as a union organizer for Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA) representing more than 8,000 union members in Alaska, was charged with four felonies by the state office of special prosecutions and appeals.

Rubadeau McRoberts left the ASEA for personal reasons in November, 2010, Jim Duncan, ASEA's business manager said. He called the shoe incident and the most recent forgery charges "unfortunate" and said the latter did not reflect on upon union organizing and unions as a whole.

Rubadeau McRoberts is accused of forging signatures and altering documents in order to garner support to unionize about 1,500 University of Alaska employees that aren't already part of a union.

Erin Pohland resigned from the Department of Law following the shoe-stealing saga. However, she was still at the department and was friends with Rubadeau McRoberts during the time the alleged forgery transpired.

She has been charged with a misdemeanor for abusing her office by not taking action when the forgeries were called to her attention, and for giving an investigative agency bad legal advice about the case.

In order to unionize, at least 30 percent of the workers in a proposed bargaining unit must express interest. To show their support, workers fill out cards with their basic information and their signatures.

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According to charging documents, on Aug. 17, 2010, Alaska State Troopers were contacted by Jennifer Petersen, who did data processing for ASEA. Peterson was responsible for entering the cards that Rubadeau McRoberts had collected into a database.

Petersen, who was in a relationship with Rubadeau McRoberts' brother, was a reluctant witness. Nonetheless, she told the troopers that many of the signatures were suspicious: that many of them seemed to have been written in the same color pen with the same handwriting.

Petersen suspected that the motive for inflating the number of cards submitted was financial. Rubadeau McRoberts operated a business called Grizzly Mail and Print Services, which handled the mailings of ballots and newsletters to all of ASEA's some 8,000 members. If Rubadeau McRoberts could successfully unionize those 1,500 employees, her business would further thrive, Petersen told investigators.

When Petersen asked Rubadeau McRoberts about the cards, Rubadeau McRoberts admitted that she had forged the cards, but told Petersen to ignore them, and that "no one would really see the cards."

Rubadeau McRoberts is also charged with altering at least three union-related petitions.

Meantime, the Alaska Labor Relations Agency, a state agency that oversees and administers union bargaining for the state, had begun to suspect -- even before Peterson approached the troopers -- that something was amiss with the petitions and the cards, and suspected that Rubadeau McRoberts was responsible. The agency went to the department of law for help.

Enter Erin Pohland, who was the state's go-to lawyer for union law.

The Alaska Labor Relations Agency didn't know that Rubadeau McRoberts and Pohland were friends. In fact, they were such good friends that about five months later, on a December evening of that year, they would push their carts through Fred Meyer's shoe section, help each other snip off the electronic theft device tags, and try to walk out with about $1,000 worth of shoes, which resulted in misdemeanor charges.

The agency also didn't know that the two regularly spoke about the union drive.

Three times the Alaska Labor Relations Agency asked Pohland to investigate the forgeries. Three times Pohland declined to take action and gave the agency bad legal advice. The charging documents say that she, as a public servant, either benefited from, injured, deprived another of benefit, or knowingly did not perform a duty that she was supposed to perform, any or all of which constitute "official misconduct," according to Alaska statue.

After the shoe incident, Pohland retired from her position at the department of law, said Richard Svobodny, the head of the department's criminal division. She has since moved out of state, and the Alaska Supreme Court has suspended her Alaska law license.

Duncan, ASEA's business manager, said that the union withdrew all of the collected cards and petitions as soon as troopers contacted it about the investigation.

Rubadeau McRoberts has moved to Colorado, Svobodny said. No one else in the union is implicated in this case.

Rubadeau McRoberts is scheduled to be arraignment on Feb. 22. Pohland's arraignment will be on March 1.

Correction: Jennifer Petersen's name was misspelled in the original article.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda@alaskadispatch.com

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