GOP Anchorage mayor calls union dues slavery

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Proving that stupid political statements are not confined to the “Lower 48” of the nation’s 50 states, the Republican mayor of Anchorage, Dan Sullivan, has called union dues “slavery.”  And then he compounded the error.

Sullivan’s characterization came at a candidates’ forum for lieutenant governor hopefuls. He’s seeking the Republican nomination for the state’s number two political post. And he managed to get both the local NAACP and the Alaska AFL-CIO angry.

The brouhaha started when Sullivan was asked about so-called right-to-work laws, which bar clauses in union contracts letting unions collect dues from workers the contracts cover. Alaska is one of the nation’s most union-heavy states.

The right-to-work laws are a favorite right-wing cause, because they deprive unions of money to even bargain, negotiate, and administer contracts. The lack of funds lessens workers’ power to raise living standards through collective bargaining.

Sullivan likened mandatory collection of union dues to slavery. When the Associated Press questioned him about the statement, he changed his characterization to “economic slavery.” The director of the state NAACP was, to put it mildly, upset. So was state fed President Vince Beltrami.

Realizing he had put his foot in his mouth, Sullivan then issued a statement, from his mayoral office, apologizing “if the use of the word offended anyone.”

Whoops, Blunder Number Two: Sullivan used municipal staffers to issue the sort-of-apology. That breaks Alaska law barring use of civil service workers for political purposes, Beltrami said. The state fed filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, and a ruling is expected by early June.                     

Photo: Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. Bill Roth/AP & Anchorage Daily News



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.