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Alaska public service workers call for federal aid to keep communities safe

By Mila Myles ·

Alaska public service workers and state legislators want Congress to increase funding for state and local governments to reduce strain and ensure the continuation of vital public services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA)/AFSCME Local 52 were joined by state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson (D-Anchorage) and state Rep. Chuck Kopp (R-Anchorage) on a press call last Thursday to urge Congress to provide unrestricted aid to states, cities and towns. ASEA is the largest union of state and municipal public service workers in Alaska with more than 8,000 public employees.

“Our state and country have suffered a huge health care and economic shock. Essential employees work day and night to keep us out of the hospital and safe from infection,” said Jake Metcalfe, ASEA’s executive director. “Alaska workers and businesses are also dealing with shutdowns and record unemployment. Our state revenue and consumer spending has evaporated. … ASEA/AFSCME Local 52 calls on the U.S. Senate to support funding our front lines now.”

For Barry Yabyabin, an ASEA member and a juvenile justice officer, public service is not just a job, but a calling “to serve the people of Alaska, and we’re doing it 24/7, 365 days a year.” 

The McLaughlin Youth Center where Yabyabin works has had two confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March. He called on Alaska GOP U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan to “please hear our call for help. Support this aid package for state and local government.”

The urgency of securing federal aid to protect both Alaska’s economy and public service workers means this is no time for partisan bickering, which both Kopp and Gray-Jackson understand.

“The HEROES Act is a critical piece of legislation that will better address the needs of local government and has provisions in there, including hazard pay,” said Kopp, referring to a House-approved bill that contains nearly $1 trillion in aid for states, cities and towns but has stalled in the Senate. “We have hundreds of groups of employees on the front lines that are making sure our state is running during a very difficult time.”

Gray-Jackson said that to keep Alaska safe, “We need to assure the safety of the essential workers who are on the front lines everyday keeping the rest of us safe.”

“They must have the resources they need, including [personal protective equipment], training and access to testing in order to continue providing critical services during this crisis and as we cautiously move toward reopening,” Gray-Jackson said. “I stand with ASEA in calling on our congressional delegation to explore every avenue possible to secure the resources our state and municipalities need to fight this disease and recover stronger than we were before.”

There have been bipartisan calls for Congress to help state and local governments, which are struggling to provide the services people want and deserve because the COVID-19 pandemic has blown holes in their budgets. AFSCME has been in the forefront of seeking robust congressional aid for states, cities and towns. Tell the Senate to take action now.

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