Alaska labor union files grievance with state over payroll problems

A union representing 8,000 state employees in Alaska is alleging that hundreds of its members this year have been paid incorrectly due to chronic understaffing among state payroll workers, according to a new grievance filing submitted Thursday.

The Alaska State Employees Association is asking the state to address complaints from employees who have gone without a paycheck or with only a partial check over the last year. The union says that the state has failed to respond to “a significant number” of state employees’ complaints after they were filed, in some cases for several months.

“Concerns expressed by state employees and state labor unions have not been addressed and payroll-related issues have developed into a widespread and unmanageable crisis,” the union said in a statement.

The state payroll staff — which handles payroll processing for 14,000 state employees — has operated with a high vacancy rate for months, including several months with a vacancy rate around 45%.

Department of Administration Commissioner Paula Vrana, who oversees payroll, declined an interview request Thursday.

“The State can confirm the receipt of ASEA’s class action grievance addressing payroll. This is a formal grievance and the State respects the process for dealing with formal grievances and will respond within that process in due course,” department spokesperson Ken Truitt said in an email.

Truitt did not answer several questions, including on whether a $315,000 contract with private payroll analysts, which began in August, had done anything to solve the problems created by a shortage of payroll staff.


Truitt also didn’t provide information on the number of pay problem notices — which are submitted by workers with inaccurate pay — the state had logged so far, and how long the state has taken to respond to them.

The union’s chief demand is for the state to respond to all the notices, and provide compensation for people who have gone with insufficient pay, as is laid out in the union contract.

Union director Heidi Drygas said the problem wasn’t caused by payroll staff. Rather, she said it was a management problem, and “a symptom of what happens when teams of employees are asked to do more with less.”

“It’s becoming extremely unworkable,” said Drygas. “You can’t have free labor without consequences.”

The state is set to commission an analysis of state employees’ salaries, to be completed next year, to determine whether low pay in a variety of positions has contributed to the state’s challenges in recruiting and retaining workers.

Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The AP and Report for America and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.