Former lieutenant governor candidate Heidi Drygas is new head of Alaska’s largest public union

Heidi Drygas
Bill Walker, independent candidate for Alaska governor, talks with a voter alongside his lieutenant governor candidate, Heidi Drygas, on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska’s largest public employee union announced on Monday that Heidi Drygas, a losing candidate in last year’s lieutenant governor election, will be its new head starting Feb. 8.

Of the state’s 14,000 public employees, about 8,000 are represented by the Alaska State Employees Association, which Drygas will serve as executive director. She replaces Jake Metcalfe, who retired as the union’s leader at the end of July 2022. 

Because of the number of workers it represents, ASEA is a powerful lobbying influence, and Drygas arrives with a significant pension-legislation push underway in the Alaska Legislature. Citing the state’s inability to keep public jobs filled, unions and employee advocates are advocating quick action to reinstate a pension program for new public employees.

“I think that is critical to the recruitment and retention of public employees,” Drygas said. “That’s going to be one of our top priorities.”

Drygas had a 10-year career with the Alaska Laborers’ union before being named commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development by former Gov. Bill Walker. When Walker ran for governor again in 2022, she was his lieutenant governor candidate.

Drygas said she’s prepared to work with Gov. Mike Dunleavy, even though she ran on a ticket against him.

“It’s politics. It’s not personal,” she said. “I don’t have any personal animosity against the governor. I disagree with him, at times vehemently, on some of his policy decisions over the last four years. I’m hoping that he has learned that there’s a better way forward, and, you know, I will say that I am skilled at working through awkwardness.”

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

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