State Employees’ Union Sues Alaska Over Covid-19 Fears

ANCHORAGE (CN) — Alaska’s largest public-employee union sued the state Tuesday, claiming it is not doing enough to provide a safe workplace for employees or allowing for remote-work options in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite Governor Mike Dunleavy announcing measures to protect residents from the novel coronavirus, including recommendations of sheltering in place and a Monday night order closing most nonessential businesses, Dunleavy deems state workers essential employees.

Juneau, the capital of Alaska.

“If we could send everybody home in state and municipal government and we thought that our governments could function, our society could function, our civilization could function if we did that, we’d certainly do that, but we know it can’t,” Dunleavy said Monday after union representatives made known their intention to file suit.

The 8,000-member Alaska State Employees Association Local 52 claims in superior court that “by failing to provide a safe work environment, and by failing to follow the procedures defendant adopted, announced and promised state employees, defendant is seriously harming ASEA members.”

It says the harm varies from failing to allow telecommuting agreements to maximize social distancing, failing to provide adequate personal protective equipment, and failing to treat employees with dignity and respect by modifying workspaces and schedules.

Dunleavy says that allowing employees to work from home is a decision to be made by supervisors, not the governor’s office.  The union disputes this, citing the state’s guidelines for telework that say “a general fear of Covid-19 does not, standing alone, justify a situational telecommute request.”

The guidelines also state that someone with symptoms of Covid-19 or a symptomatic family member would qualify for approval to work from home.

“CLOSE THE OFFICE” was stamped in the snow outside one government office building in Anchorage. A social media post showed the message in a photo taken from the Robert B. Atwood Building in Anchorage by Twitter account user “The Alaska Landmine.”

Some state offices are allowing telework, while others are requiring their staff to report to work, but closing doors to in-person visits. The court system remains open. The only changes have been accommodating testimonies by video in ongoing trials and delaying the start of any new jury trials.

As of Tuesday, Alaska has 42 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 17 in its most populous city, Anchorage. The rest are spread throughout the vast stat,e with nine cases in Fairbanks, eight in Ketchikan, two in Juneau, two in Palmer, one each in Seward, Soldotna and Sterling.

One death of an Alaska citizen has been reported, however the person died in Washington on Tuesday and had been living outside the state for some time, according to official reports.

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