Beltrami to take over as labor union president
AFL-CIO union president Jim Sampson is stepping down in early February, handing over the reins to longtime labor advocate Vince Beltrami.
Sampson, former Fairbanks borough mayor and state labor commissioner, said the timing was right as a new administration and new legislators settle in, and as his replacement could finally break away from his post.
Beltrami most recently served as the statewide training director for IBEW, and said he had committed to completing some projects there and felt he should transition someone into his position before moving on. IBEW’s Dave McAllen will take over Beltrami’s role as training director.
A member of the electrical union for more than 15 years, Beltrami worked his way through the union apprenticeship program, became a journeyman and eventually took a job in the union hall. He also served as president of the Anchorage Building Trades Council from 2000 to 2003.
Sampson, now 56 years old, took over the position from longtime union leader Mano Frey in 2003 with the idea that he would serve for only a short time.
Sampson was re-elected as president last August, even though he had given notice that he would not complete his newest term. “I ran again, but with the understanding there would be a transition,” he said. “I was elected, then I moved to have Vince secede me, and he was unanimously elected.”
A California native, Beltrami came to Alaska with the goals of getting a college degree and becoming an zealous fly-fisherman. He accomplished both; his office is filled with fish trinkets, including a cool fishy stapler, and he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 1991.
He worked for a couple of media companies that folded, and was doing freelance work when he heard the IBEW was accepting applications for apprentices.
In his new role at the state chapter of the American Federation of Labor, which has more than 60,000 members, Beltrami will be a voice in some of the most important issues the state has faced in decades.
Not surprising, the No. 1 priority for the union leader is that the state get a gas pipeline contract, which would keep AFL affiliates busy for years.
“It means a lot of jobs,” Beltrami said. “We need to have development in the state, but not at the expense of workers and working families.”
He will tout the benefits of including a project labor agreement in a gas line deal. A PLA would ensure union workers are used to build the gas line, and has held up in court as a method of requiring local hire standards. Critics question the fairness of requiring those who want to work on the project join a union, however.
“We believe it’s the smartest, best business decision, and the most responsible way to build it,” he said. “Without a project labor agreement, there’s no way it would go as smoothly as it should.”
Continued work force development is a close second, as those working in the construction industry are retiring at a rapid rate, and too few young people are prepared to enter the industry.
Retirement benefits is also a concern, especially with the news that the state employee retirement system is underfunded by nearly $10 billion.
Beltrami and Sampson acknowledged that there are some notable personality differences between the new guy and his predecessors.
“He’s not as guarded as we’d be,” Sampson said. “He might be more of a straight talker, but I’ve watched him. He can handle himself in a boardroom and on a construction site. He’ll be fine.”
Beltrami is an avid believer in the value of unions and their workers, and hopes his more-direct approach in their standing will be refreshing.
“I’m not afraid to say what I think, and that’s served me well to this point,” he said. “Too often people try to be politically correct and lose their effectiveness. I can be polite and courteous, until I feel the people I’m representing have been disrespected or not treated fairly.”
Sampson, meanwhile, will spend his time in his cabin a few miles up the river from Fairbanks.
“I’m going to retire and enjoy life,” he said. “I’ve got four grandkids, all under the age of 4 years old. I expect I’ll be busy, but not as engaged in big public policy issues. It’s time to let others do that.”