GUEST COMMENTARY: Ending statewide Alaska-hire preference has far-reaching impacts

A sweeping change happened when Gov. Sean Parnell, through his Deputy Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development, ended statewide Alaska-hire requirements for public works contracts.

With one stroke of the pen, a statewide Alaska-hire policy that’s been in place for the last 25 years to serve the interests of Alaskans and their families was made null and void by the elimination of Alaska-hire preferences in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and other communities.

Never before in Alaska’s history has a governor so diligently worked against the interests of his constituents. Time was when the majority of Alaskans knew their leaders labored for their benefit. We knew that our health and welfare were their top priority. No more. These last few years have shown that some want to give away our resources for less than the going rate, and now our jobs too!

Gone are the statewide preferences for Alaskan boilermakers, bricklayers, carpenters, cement masons, culinary workers, electricians, engineers and architects, equipment operators, foremen and supervisors, insulation workers, ironworkers, laborers, mechanics, millwrights, painters, pile drivers, plumbers and pipe fitters, roofers, sheet metal workers, surveyors, truck drivers, tug boat operators, and welders.

The ramifications of this change in the long-standing Alaska-hire policy are far reaching because the law is about wages and safety, too.

Alaska-hire preferences are governed by “Title 36: Public Contracts.” Part of the law is sometimes called Alaska’s “Little Davis-Bacon Act” because one of its chapters is modeled after the federal Davis-Bacon Act that was signed into law in 1931 by Republican Herbert Hoover. That Act is named after its sponsors, Pennsylvania Sen. James Davis and New York Rep. Robert Bacon. Both were Republicans.

Davis and Bacon wanted to provide some market stability because at the beginning of 1900’s, the United States government was already greatly involved in heavy construction projects. Federal and state officials wanted to prevent the “fly-by-night” contractors who performed shoddy work with an unskilled workforce. By establishing standards that contractors had to abide by on public projects, they provided a level playing field on which contractors could compete for work, rather than reward the practice of using low-wage, out-of-area workers in order to win work.

The employment preference portion of Title 36 was put on the books, in part, because legislators believed that it was appropriate for the state to consider the welfare of its residents when it funded construction activity; the state had a special interest in seeing that the benefits of state construction spending accrue to its residents; and, that the state had a duty of loyalty to their citizens and should fulfill this duty by giving residents preference for employment on public works projects it funded.

We’ve grappled with resident hire issues since the 1970s, when a huge influx of non-residents came to work on the oil pipeline construction. Consequently, each governor since the law was put on the books in the mid-80s has supported Alaska hire.

Gov. Frank Murkowski was a grand champion for resident hire and established his Alaska Hire Initiative. He used his bully pulpit, and tasked almost every state department, board and commission to work on increasing the number of jobs going to Alaskans.

Murkowski and his Labor Commissioner Greg O’Claray even went so far as to push for companies to increase the percentage of Alaskans on their payrolls as he subpoenaed records from Alaska’s major oil producers to determine where their employees live, how the workers are classified and whether all paid wages have been reported.

Parnell didn’t even bother to fight for concessions on our behalf or require any accountability from the oil companies when he pushed to lower taxes of major oil producers.

Thanks to the elimination of the statewide Alaska-hire preference, as leaders look to grow Alaska’s infrastructure, and construct buildings, dams, roads and other energy producing projects, Title 36 no longer provides a means for construction quality and efficiency, resident hire or guarantees that a certain wage be paid.

By getting rid of the statewide Alaska hire, Parnell has backed away from the state’s commitment to keep Alaskans working.

Andrée McLeod, a registered Republican, has lived in Alaska since 1978. She worked in the administration of Gov. Frank Murkowski at the Alaska Workforce Investment Board within the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

08/29/2013 - 10:32am