Judge declines to issue order requested by state workers union over COVID-19 concerns

(Creative Commons photo by North Charleston)

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has declined to quickly order Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration to address a complaint that he’s not providing a safe environment for state workers.

Judge Thomas Matthews decided on Tuesday not to issue a temporary restraining order requested by the Alaska State Employees Association, the largest state employee union.

Matthews didn’t rule on the overall lawsuit.

The union is suing the state, alleging that it’s violating its legal responsibilities to provide workers with a safe workplace during the coronavirus pandemic. The state argued that it’s already taking the actions the ASEA demanded.

Matthews wrote that the union fundamentally failed to address the impact of Dunleavy’s disaster declaration.

Matthews wrote: “Particularly in times of crisis, the executive branch must be afforded deference to do its job in a manner that promotes the health, welfare and safety of all Alaskans. In effect, ASEA is inviting this Court to substitute its judgment for the expertise of State officials who are charged with managing several thousand workers.”

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson responded to the decision by saying the state is doing all it can to ensure workers’ safety.

Union Executive Director Jake Metcalfe said there’s been an “impressive increase” in the number of state workers allowed to work from home since the ASEA filed the lawsuit. But Metcalfe said the union is still hearing from workers that don’t feel safe.