Citing executive order, Fort Wainwright evicts public employee union

(Photo courtesy of U.S. Army)

Fort Wainwright officials are evicting the union that represents federal employees from its office on post.

The head of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1834, which represents 1,000 or so federal workers on Fort Wainwright, said the union and post officials have for decades maintained good relations — until recently.

“It’s been within the last year that the relationship has completely soured,” said Local 1834 President Bill Ward.

He said that’s when Wainwright officials told him that a new federal policy requires the union to pay rent for office space on post at fair market value. Ward refused and was told the union will have to rent space off-post.

“We got the notice that we’re evicted from the offices that we’ve been in since 1972, and that we’ve got 30 days to get out,” he said in an interview last week.

Ward said post officials also cut the amount of on-duty time he can spend working on union issues by 75%. He said Army officials cite executive orders issued last year by President Donald Trump to justify their actions.

“The stance that we’ve been given was that, ‘It’s an executive order, and we have to follow it,’” he said.

Ward said more than two dozen AFGE officials use the Wainwright office for training and other official business.

Fort Wainwright officials declined interview requests to talk about the dispute, citing ongoing collective bargaining. But they emailed a statement that said they’re evicting the Local 1834 “in accordance with Executive Order 13837, which prohibits government agencies from providing free or discounted office space to labor organizations.”

“They want to destroy the union,” said Dave Owens, the national representative for AFGE’s Alaska office. “Their goal is to get rid of us, so we’re actually no longer a hindrance.”

Owens works with all the AFGE locals in the state, which represent about 10,500 federal employees in Alaska. He said it’s important for the union to have a presence on post, because it’s much easier for civilian workers to stop by during lunchtime or before or after work.

“It’s convenient to the employees,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

Owens said Fort Wainwright’s local has accepted offers from the Laborers Union and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to use their offices in Fairbanks. And he said that’s probably what the AFGE Local 1101 representing workers at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage will do when base officials order them to pay rent or move.

“They’re going to kick us off the base,” he said. “That’s on JBER. That will happen within the next two months.”

JBER officials said Wednesday they’re negotiating with the Local 1101, but they haven’t issued an eviction notice.

AFGE anticipates it will have to leave offices at JBER, as well as at the Department of Veterans Affairs regional office in Anchorage, sometime around December or January. Those two installations have around 2,100 employees currently served by the union, according to Owens, ranging from tradesmen to office workers and nurses. The union said it’s looking for offices off-base.

Owens said AFGE has successfully fought many of the executive order’s provisions in court and will continue to do so.

Alaska Public Media reporter Zachariah Hughes contributed reporting in Anchorage.

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