The Alaska State Employees Association filed an injunction and restraining order against the State of Alaska and Gov. Mike Dunleavy Tuesday evening over what union President Jake Metcalfe says is sustained inaction on state workers' requests to work from home amid the spread of COVID-19.
"For a couple of weeks now there's been a lot of emails and phone calls from our members who are employees all over the state, who are concerned for their health and safety and want to work from home," Metcalfe told the Daily News-Miner Tuesday. "But there's no consistent policy and each employee has had to ask their individual supervisor and can't get a clear answer."
ASEA/AFSCME Local 52 submitted a petition holding more than 400 signatures to the governor on Monday urging him to take immediate action.
The request for injunction relief and a temporary restraining order was filed the next day.
"ASEA’s request for injunctive relief asks the court to enforce the administration’s own social distancing and telework policies for the benefit of state employees," said Molly Brown, legal counsel for ASEA/AFSCME Local 52.
"The administration has promised employees that it will provide staggered work schedules, a safe work environment that satisfies the administration’s social distancing policies, and a move towards allowing employees to telework," Brown said. "The court filing today provided several examples of instances where the administration is failing its employees by not putting employee safety first, arbitrarily denying telework requests, and failing to provide the necessary social distance in the workplace."
The ASEA/AFSCME Local 52 –– which stands for Alaska state Employees Association/American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees –– represents three different tiers of more than 8,000 workers across the state.
Class one are essential workers such as nurses and Alaska State Troopers, police and firefighters. These workers cannot strike and are considered essential employees who are needed in emergency situations.
Class two are workers such as snow plow drivers and other service workers who are considered essential but not to the same degree as a trooper or nurse, Metcalfe said.
Class three contains the rest of state employees. These are the employees who are expressing desires to Metcalfe to be able to work from home as much as possible and who can't seem to get a clear answer, he said.
"Our employees all want to work. They want to be able to work, but they want to be able to telework from home," Metcalfe said. "Because they're being told they have to hunker down and avoid contact with people but that doesn't work in a lot of the office situations."
Other inconsistencies came to light as he heard public defender attorneys were allowed to work from home but public defender agency paralegals and support staff were told to remain working in their office buildings.
"My workers are scared. Employees are complaining they are in work spaces with more than 10 people or the desks aren't six feet apart and so on," he said. "So we want consistent policy and we haven't gotten a response on that."
The union has been requesting personal protective equipment and N-95 respirators for employees who must work in close quarters but received no response to that request either, Metcalfe said.
Metcalfe wrote to Dunleavy last Sunday, only to receive a response more than week a later on Tuesday in the form of a standardized form letter that did not address any of his questions directly.
When asked in a Tuesday evening press briefing about the situation with state workers, Dunleavy claimed a policy was already in place but gave few details.
"We do have a situation in which we have employees that are working from home. They're having a conversation with their supervisors," Dunleavy said. "Those of us that are teleworking from home are doing it."
Metcalfe said he didn't want to have to take this route of involving legal action.
"Hopefully we can get an answer through this process, which we didn't want to have to do," he said. "But we weren't getting the information we needed."
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.