Heidi Drygas, executive director of the 8,000-member Alaska State Employees Association, addresses a rally outside the Alaska State Capitol on Feb. 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)

Heidi Drygas, executive director of the 8,000-member Alaska State Employees Association, addresses a rally outside the Alaska State Capitol on Feb. 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)

Union for state employees files class action grievance over payroll delays

State has fewer than half the payroll employees needed “to run smoothly,” complaint alleges.

A class action grievance about payroll processing delays “resulting in employees not being paid accurately or in a timely manner” was filed against the State of Alaska on Thursday by a union representing 8,000 state employees.

The complaint by the Alaska State Employees Association alleges widespread problems throughout various state departments due to a shortage of payroll employees, with some workers receiving only partial paychecks or none at all during the past year.

“Concerns expressed by state employees and state labor unions have not been addressed and payroll-related issues have developed into a widespread and unmanageable crisis,” a press release issued Thursday by ASEA states. “Impacted employees across the state are challenged to meet daily personal financial obligations including mortgage, rent payments, groceries, childcare, medical expenses and other basic needs.”

The union claims the Alaska Division of Payroll Services processes more than 14,000 timesheets every two weeks.

“This undertaking requires a team of seventy-five qualified individuals for payroll to run smoothly so paychecks can be delivered on time and in the correct amount,” the union’s press release asserts. “As of Sept. 10, only 37 people were employed at Payroll Services, making an already complicated job a nearly impossible task.”

ASEA Executive Director Heidi Drygas, in a prepared statement, declared the problem isn’t caused by the payroll staff themselves.

“(This) is a symptom of what happens when teams of employees are asked to do more with less, when employees are treated and paid poorly, and when state operating budgets are ratcheted down so tight that failure is all but assured,” she said. “The consequence of these policies will affect more than state employees, this spells a breakdown of state services to all Alaskans and a failure of leadership to provide basic and essential services to constituents.”

Ken Truitt, a spokesperson for the Department of Administration, declined to confirm the union’s payroll staffing claims in an interview Friday. He also declined to state how many employees have not received proper paychecks during the past year.

“We will disclose that information when it’s required in the process,” he said, referring to the grievance. “It’s not that we’re not interested in it. But we don’t want to compromise the process by something in the press getting quoted or misquoted.”

However, Tyson Gallagher, chief of staff to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, stated in an Aug. 11 letter to the commissioners in charge of state departments that problems with paychecks “are primarily due to excessively high vacancy rates at Payroll (over 40%).”

Some state lawmakers have in recent months said the state has about a 20% vacancy rate among employees, part of a larger workforce shortage problem throughout Alaska. Truitt said he also can’t confirm the accuracy of that figure, but

“That number fluctuates,” he said. “COVID created all kinds of vacancies that were at a historic level. And so there’s been a return to normal, or a slight return to normal, but again that number changes. With 14,000 people on the payroll that is always in motion.”

The state awarded a $315,000 contract to private payroll analysts who in August began assessing the problems resulting from the staffing shortage. The Department of Administration is also seeking a contractor to conduct an analysis of state employees’ salaries to determine whether poor pay is contributing to ongoing hiring woes.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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