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Alaska GOP lawmaker seeks to curb collective bargaining rights

By the CNN Wire Staff
An effort to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin set off huge protests. Alaska has a similar bill.
An effort to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin set off huge protests. Alaska has a similar bill.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Alaska GOP lawmaker says his collective bargaining bill faces tough sledding
  • The legislator said his bill mimics Wisconsin measure
  • Opponents say there's not enough time in the legislative session to pass the bill

(CNN) -- The growing push to restrict the collective bargaining rights of government employees has reached the far-flung state of Alaska.

There, a Republican state lawmaker has introduced legislation that would strip many public employees of the right to collectively bargain for hours, benefits and working conditions. State employees could still collectively bargain for wages under the legislation.

The bill exempts firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians, who, according to Title 40 of the Alaska Statutes, are prohibited from going on strike.

The bill's sponsor, state Representative Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, said his legislation mimics a measure that was passed by the Wisconsin Legislature earlier this month, signed into law and is now the subject of a lawsuit.

"It is the Wisconsin arrangement," Gatto told CNN.

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Gatto said that his bill, like the Wisconsin measure, is aimed at curbing state costs.

Similar bills to limit collective bargaining rights also are pending in Ohio and Indiana.

Opponents of the bill give the measure little chance of passing this session. That's because the 2011 session of the Alaska Legislature is roughly two-thirds over, they said. Also, opponents said, Alaska lawmakers have been focused on controversial legislation to roll back the state's oil and gas tax on profits earned by petroleum companies in the state.

Gatto said he doesn't necessarily disagree that his bill probably won't pass this year.

"This is such a union state," Gatto said. "But if you just decide that it doesn't have a chance that guarantees the public will never know about it. You have to build, build, build and ultimately if you do enough building, you'll end up with a house."

House minority leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said Gatto's bill "would be a particularly onerous thing to drop on state employees."

Kerttula said public employees are still smarting from a 2005 overhaul of the state's retirement, pension and health care system. Kerttula called the switch "a disaster" in a state that has a difficult time retaining qualified teachers and police officers.

"I cannot tell you how wrong she is," Gatto said. "We have teachers lined up to teach here because we pay a decent wage."

Gatto agreed with Kerttula that the bill would face tough sledding in the state Senate, where, unlike the GOP-controlled House, the balance of power between Republicans and Democrats is evenly divided. Kerttula, nevertheless, said the Democratic minority leadership is taking the bill seriously.

Gatto said he thinks he can get his bill to the House floor for a vote and and that, if it gets that far, the measure could get passed out of the chamber. Because the 2011 session is the first year of a two-year session for the Alaska Legislature, the bill would not have to be reintroduced in 2012.

State Representative Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, who is the House minority whip, wondered whether the proposed collective bargaining bill for Alaska public employees could spark as fierce an argument as Wisconsin's, which prompted 14 Democrats to leave the state in an unsuccessful effort to kill that bill.

"If the Democrats flee here," Gardner said, "we'll have to go to Canada."

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