Alaska Mayor: Union Dues are ‘Slavery’


August 1, 2014


Anchorage, Alaska, Mayor Dan Sullivan said at a May Chamber of Commerce forum that paying union dues is “slavery.”
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr userU.S. Army Alaska (USARAK).

Thugs. Goons. Bullies. Anti-worker politicians love to use colorful language when talking about unions and their members.


But Anchorage, Alaska, Mayor Dan Sullivan took worker-bashing to a new low with his comments at a May forum sponsored by the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

Sullivan, who is running for lieutenant governor, was asked for his opinion on so-called right-to-work legislation – which he supports.

His response? Union dues are “slavery.”


Speaking after the event with reporters, Sullivan elaborated on his point saying that the act of paying for union representation is a form of “economic slavery.”

The NAACP publically called for Sullivan to apologize two days later, saying that that comparing centuries of slavery in the U.S. to current political topics “diminishes how horrible and tragic” slavery was for African Americans.

Initially, Sullivan doubled down. The same day as the NAACP request, Sullivan said at a press conference:

I don’t think an apology is necessary, considering that the remark was made in terms of economic slavery. Economically, if you have to pay somebody else that you don’t want to associate with just to have a job, that’s a form of economic slavery. I realize that some people think that’s a hot-button term, but it has meaning beyond just what its historical context might have been for a particular group in America.

He backpedaled later that day, issuing a press release that stated, “I apologize if the use of the word offended anyone.”

Sullivan has earned a reputation as being unfriendly to working families in Anchorage. As mayor since 2009, he has sought to diminish wages and union rights for municipal workers in Alaska's largest city.

Despite Sullivan’s assertions, unions remain one of the most effective institutions to help lift wages and offer benefits to people of color across the U.S. According to research compiled by the SEIU:


  • Unionized women of color earn almost 35 percent more than nonunion women of color.

  • Unionization raises Latino workers’ wages by $2.60 per hour, making them 26 percent more likely to have employer-paid health insurance and 27 percent more likely to have a pension.

  • Unionization raises African American workers’ wages by about $2.00 per hour – more than 11.2 percent.