Murkowski pushes Alaska hire

Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2003

JUNEAU Gov. Frank Murkowski is pushing for companies to increase the percentage of Alaskans on their payrolls.

He raised the issue during a speech in Anchorage before the Association of General Contractors, a construction trade group, asking employers to pledge to maintain a 90 percent Alaska work force.

Alaska's construction industry accounted for more than 28,000 jobs in 2002, according to statistics from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. More than 20 percent of those jobs were filled by out-of-state workers.

Labor Commissioner Greg O'Claray said the administration plans to push for more Alaskans working in industries that traditionally count on out-of-state workers and emphasize keeping wages in the state.

The initiative is targeted at the construction, oil and gas, mining, seafood, forest products and tourism industries.

The Alaska Legislature has passed laws in previous years to require companies to hire more in-state residents, but those laws have been struck down by courts. The state can require the 90 percent in-state hire for some public works projects.

But O'Claray said the administration is considering legislation in January to enact an Alaska hire initiative that would pass muster with the courts.

In addition, he said the administration can use its ''bully pulpit'' to increase the number of jobs going to Alaskans.

''When you take an initiative elevated to the governor's office level and he talks about local hire at every Cabinet meeting we've got the horsepower we need to influence employers. It's in their best interest,'' O'Claray said.

The labor department doesn't track figures on specific companies, but does gather statistics on employment within industries.

Preliminary figures from 2002 are being compiled for a report due in January. They show:

About 25 percent of the oil industry's work force is from out of state.

Non-Alaskans make up about 70 percent of the work force in the seafood processing industry, but earn 60 percent of the wages. ''That's an indicator that the higher paying jobs are going to local residents in many cases,'' O'Claray said.

The University of Alaska employs more than 9,500 people and about 10.6 percent of its work force is nonresidents.

The administration has talked to UA officials about increasing the number of jobs going to Alaskans, O'Claray said, adding ''state government cannot talk out of both sides of their mouth.''

Murkowski cited a report by Commonwealth North that showed 68,000 nonresident workers earned more than $1 billion in wages in 2001.

Officials in the construction and seafood processing industries which have traditionally relied on a large number of out-of-state workers expressed support for the idea.

''While we agree with the goal, getting there is going to be hard,'' said Richard Cattanach, executive director of the Association of General Contractors.

Glenn Reed, president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, said the industry's problem has not been finding jobs for Alaskans, but the reverse.

''Most of the jobs are entry-level jobs, a high percentage of them,'' Reed said. ''I would say it has been difficult over the years to find Alaskans to go to remote seafood jobs.''

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