JUNEAU (AP) -- The state plans to contract out more of its telecommunications needs, a move state workers say could cost more than 50 jobs.
Department of Administration Commissioner Bob Poe said it's not certain yet how many state jobs, if any, will be lost. But he said companies bidding on the work have also been told they need to include plans for dealing fairly with state workers.
Poe told the Juneau Empire that labor contracts require notification when any position ''might possibly'' be contracted out. The state initially told the Alaska State Employees Union a maximum of 56 state jobs might be affected -- 29 in Anchorage, 19 in Juneau and eight in Fairbanks.
The contract proposal has been refined and fewer jobs will be affected, said Karen Morgan, acting director of the department's information technology group.
ASEA Business Manager Chuck O'Connell said the union has a big problem with the plan as it stands. He would not discuss specifics, but said the union will pursue action through a disputes procedure.
''We don't believe the state is going about this process correctly and we will utilize the avenues that are available to us to try and resolve the difference between the state's approach and our understanding of what they should be doing,'' he said.
Bill Beyer, a state computer help desk employee, said the request for proposals is being pushed through quickly. He said employees believe their jobs are in jeopardy.
'''We're toast' is the prevailing opinion,'' Beyer said.
Poe said unions have been informed about the proposal since the state began working on it last fall.
The various state departments spend about $26 million a year on telecommunications, Poe said, for items from Internet connections to maintenance of an emergency communications system.
About $20.5 million of that telecommunications service already is contracted out to at least 40 different companies.
''That leads to excessive paperwork, complexity,'' Poe said, and it doesn't encourage economies of scale.
The state is looking for one prime contractor to handle telecommunications services that are already contracted out, plus part of the $5.5 million in services performed by employees.
Poe expects that a consortium of companies, rather than one single company, will bid on the job and provide efficiencies.
''The Legislature and Alaskans have made it clear we do have to constantly look for ways to do what we do at a lower cost,'' he said.
The ASEA contract also requires that the union have a chance to offer its own plan to compete with any private sector proposal, Poe said.
If a private company wins the contract, some of the state employees could expect to get jobs there, he said.
''Most of them have very, very marketable skills,'' Poe said.
A request for proposals is scheduled to go out in mid-June. Poe said he expects responses and a decision on a four-year contract by late summer.
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