Commercial fishing groups are pushing back against a proposed ballot initiative that would ban a sector of their industry. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
Fish politics can be messy stuff. They’re complicated; they’re emotional, and there’s a lot of money involved. Now that a group with ties to the sportfishing lobby is trying to put the existence of the Cook Inlet setnet fishery to a vote, fish politics are being taken to their messy extreme.
When the initiative application was filed last week, commercial fishing groups were mostly quiet. Now, they’re issuing full-throated denunciations of the move to prohibit set-netting in urban areas. “Theatrics and political games” is how the United Fishermen of Alaska — or UFA — is describing it. The Alaska Salmon Alliance — another trade group — has called the initiative a “public relations scam” meant to pressure the Legislature into giving sport and personal-use fishermen more access to Kenai River king salmon.
Andy Hall directs the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, and he thinks the initiative is more about allocation of fish than conservation.
“They’re down in the Legislature trying to get somebody kicked of the Board of Fish, or eavesdropping on the UFA annual meeting, or, you know, kicking off some initiative to put a bunch of people out of business. That’s not conservation,” says Hall. “Maybe they’re conserving an opportunity for themselves to partake of, but, boy, I don’t see any king salmon conservation.”
Conservation groups also question the motives of the initiative sponsors. Cook Inletkeeper’s Bob Shavelson says the group behind the initiative hasn’t reached out to him, and that they would be focusing more on habitat measures if they were concerned about improving the fishery. Shavelson also worries about having fisheries management decided by a public vote instead of going through the established process.
“I think it’s a horrible precedent,” says Shavelson. “I think it’s people who have money and political influence trying to drive their agenda in a way that is totally outside the science basis where we should be making decisions.
Sponsors of the initiative have used their own searing rhetoric to describe their goals. Joe Connors, who is heading up the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance has described set-netters as creating a “wall of death” that is crippling the king salmon stock. This past year, commercial fishermen took 1,800 kings bound for the Kenai River. Sportfishermen took about 1,600, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance turned in their ballot application to the Division of Elections last week. If their application is approved, they would have to go through a long signature campaign before earning a spot on the 2016 primary ballot.
KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran contributed reporting to this story.
The power has been out in parts Downtown Anchorage much of the day.
Melissa Wolf, a spokesperson for Municipal Light and Power, says the outage started around three in the morning and crews have been working all day to fix it, but they haven’t pinpointed the cause.
“Some people did receive power and then it went out and it’s because of the trouble shooting that we’re doing to find the cause. One of the problems was a transformer needed to be replaced on top of the JCPenny’s Garage. And it wasn’t the cause but we did need to fix that to go forward with the repairs. And right now we don’t have and estimate on when the power will be restored,” Wolf said.
The outage is affecting ML&P customers between A and F Streets and 5th and 8th Avenues. It’s impacting commercial and residential customers.
Wolf says there is concern about the power being out much longer because temperatures are so cold.
The Anchorage Police Department has been notified as well as the Anchorage Fire Department. Though Wolf says many of the commercial buildings do have generators.
Temperatures are expected to be between 10 and 15 degrees overnight.
Wolf says customers without power, who have not reported it, should call ML&P.
Updates will be posted on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Gov. Sean Parnell has ordered state flags lowered to half-staff Thursday in honor of the late former state legislator Elton Engstrom, Jr.
Engstrom died last week at the age of 78. Funeral services are planned for Thursday in Juneau.
Engstrom served one term in each the House and Senate, beginning in 1965.
He was the son of former legislators, according to a statement from his daughter, current state Rep. Cathy Munoz, and during his life, worked as a lawyer, fish buyer and property manager. He also co-wrote a book.
Flags are to be raised to full-staff at sunset Thursday.
Gov. Sean Parnell is losing another commissioner.
Becky Hultberg told Parnell, in a letter dated Monday, that she plans to resign as the commissioner of Administration, effective Dec. 11, for a position in the private sector.
Hultberg is the fourth commissioner in recent months to step down.
Bryan Butcher resigned as Revenue commissioner in August to join the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. Dan Sullivan left his post at the Department of Natural Resources in September to run for U.S. Senate and Joe Masters resigned as Public Safety commissioner last month after five years in that role with plans to return to the private sector.
Hultberg has served as Administration commissioner for three years. An acting commissioner has not yet been named.
A storm that brought high winds, high water and high surf caused flooding to communities along the coast of Western Alaska this weekend. At least two communities have made disaster declarations.
Alaska’s Filipino community is pulling together to help the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the country early Friday morning.
After months of negotiations, KTUU-TV and GCI were unable to reach an agreement by their midnight deadline on Friday to keep KTUU’s programming available on cable in the more rural-areas of the state.
KTUU spokesperson Brad Hillwig says the two parties came close on financial terms, but it was primarily non-monetary terms that kept an agreement from being reached.
“They dealt with issue such as exclusivity of NBC in non-Anchorage, or rural, areas. GCI sought assurances that KTUU would not challenge any attempts on their part to put another NBC signal in rural Alaska,” Hillwig said.
Hillwig says another sticking point included a potential tiering system in the future that might allow cable companies to make subscribers buy access to local channels.
GCI Vice President David Morris says another road block involved KTUU’s desire for additional channel capacity. But, he says negotiations between the two parties are not over forever.
“This is just one part of a very complex contractual arrangement between Schurz Communication and GCI,” Morris said. “Negotiations will continue and we remain open that if Channel 2 comes back with a serious offer, we can come to some type of agreement about rural Alaska.”
Alaska Rural Communications Services – or ARCS – will still carry some KTUU programming, including news and late-night programs like Saturday Night Live.
In place of KTUU on GCI, most affected viewers will now see the Starz Kids and Family network. Those in Kuparuk and the North Slope will see WGN, a CW affiliate based in Chicago.
The administrative fee for vaccines through the state’s public health system is being waived in an effort to get more low income people protected from flu this season.
Rhonda Richmeier, the chief of Public Health Nursing for the state, says the free vaccines are being offered because there are already been a number of hospitalizations from flu this year.
“We’re concerned, we don’t know for sure yet, but we are concerned that this may be an earlier and more severe flu season and because of that, we really want to make sure we’re making it as easy as possible for all Alaskans to get their flu vaccine,” she said.
Richmeier says the free vaccines will be available at any public health center around the state to anyone eligible for state purchased vaccine. That’s anyone under the age of three.
“For anyone age three and older, we can only vaccinate people at our state Public Health centers if they do not have health insurance or they have a health insurance that doesn’t cover vaccines or they are uninsured, underinsured,” Richmeier said.
The free vaccines will be offered until the end of December. It takes 10 days after the shot to get full protection from the flu.
A big blue fire truck is on its way from Unalaska to the Pribilof island of St. George. The truck has been ready to go for almost a year, but until now, the two communities had no way to move it.
They found their solution in a crab boat.
The truck is being lifted off the Trident Seafoods dock by a crane and lowered onto the deck of the Farwest Leader. This fishing boat just offloaded their last haul of king crab. And now:
Kyle Craig: “We’re putting a firetruck on a boat. On a 109-foot crab boat.”
St. George has been trying to get the aging fire truck, known as Big Blue, to their island since May 2012. That’s when they bought Big Blue from the Sitka Fire Department for a dollar. They’d been without a working fire truck for 2 years.
St. George’s mayor, Pat Pletnikoff, says they tried every option they could find. Big Blue was too big to travel on any ferry, so the town arranged to have it flown out by the Air National Guard during a training exercise. But the exercise was canceled.
In the meantime, Pletnikoff says the need for a new fire truck became clearer than ever:
Pletnikoff: “Our carpenter shop that was owned by our village corporation burned down. Ironically, that’s probably, eh, 2, 300 feet from our public safety building on St. George, and had we had a fire truck that we could connect and get water to it, we might have been able to do something about the fire.”
Almost a year ago, the state paid for a barge to move the fire truck. It was too big to fit in St. George’s harbor, so instead, they dropped the truck off in Unalaska.
Pletnikoff: “And since that time, of course, we’ve tried everything that we could to find a way to get it to St. George.”
In the end, Trident Seafoods donated the use of the vessels the town needed for the final push — a freighter with a crane that can handle a 10-ton fire truck, and a crab boat that can safely navigate St. George’s shallow harbor.
Once the crew of the Farwest Leader chained the truck down on their deck, they got some basic instructions to pass along to St. George.
Senior Fire Captain Zac Schasteen has been taking care of the truck recently, and he tells deckhand Kyle Craig how to turn it on:
Schasteen: “I don’t know how familiar they are with the engine.”
Schasteen: “But just remember — turn that on, turn them both on…”
[sound of switches being flipped and truck ignition]
Craig: “Oh yeah.”
They run through all the horns and switches, plus the most important piece of equipment:
Schasteen: “You’ve got a siren, just turn that all the way up.”[sound of siren]
The fire truck is on its way to St. George. But even now, there are still a few kinks in the plan.
There wasn’t a crane in St. George to get the truck back off the crab boat until last month. Mayor Pletnikoff says one was just shipped in for another project.
Pletnikoff: “So we have the equipment. But the individual that was operating the equipment injured himself and had to go back to Anchorage. So that left us with someone who’s operating the crane but doesn’t have the kind of experience that I am totally, totally comfortable with — but can do the job.”
Another option would be to send the Farwest Leader over to St. Paul first, to pick up a trained crane operator. Either way, Pletnikoff says they’ll find a way to get the truck off the boat.
Pletnikoff: “I like to look at all the options and look at all the possibilities, so if I can do something that’s gonna be a little more convenient for the overall project, I’m gonna do that.”
And once it’s done, he says the town is going to welcome their truck in style. They’re planning a parade in its honor, and he says they’re going to paint the town’s name and official emblem — a fur seal — on Big Blue’s side.
Over the weekend, Alaskans had their last chance to say goodbye to the state’s Olympians – and prospective Olympians – before they start their seasons…and eventually head to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Olympic Games.
A light layer of snow covered the ground – fitting for the occasion – as Alaska’s Olympians and Olympic hopefuls strolled into Anchorage’s town square to the cheers of supporters gathered to give the athletes an enthusiastic send-off.
Nordic skier Holly Brooks, who competed in the 2010 Games in Vancouver, says despite Alaska being so large and its population so spread out, it still manages to remain a very close-knit community.
“Alaskans really get behind their Olympians and their athletes, and we really feel a lot of support from the community,” Brooks said. “So, it’s pretty special.”
Kikkan Randall, who will be competing in her fourth Olympic Games, says events where community members get a chance to chat with their Olympians are important because, when she was younger, those events inspired her Olympic dreams.
“I mean, I remember when Tommy Moe won the gold medal in Lilyhammer and came back and signed posters at the Alaska Club,” Randall said. “I remember when Nina Kemppel signed a poster for me when I was 10-years-old at the Gold Nugget Triathlon.”
Since then, Randall has become a source of inspiration for Alaska’s next generation of Olympians. Along the way, she’s earned the support of the community and she says that means a lot.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that so many people in this community have helped me get to where I am today,” Randall said. “So, to really just be able to celebrate that one more time and capture all this great energy so that we can take it with us on the road.”
Both Brooks and Randall leave later this week for Europe and the World Cup circuit, which starts in about two weeks. Randall says it will be an extremely hectic schedule from now through the end of the Olympics.
“We race the World Cup up until four days before the opening ceremonies,” Randall said. “So, we literally go to Munich, pack away our U.S. Ski Team stuff, grab our Olympic stuff and head over to Sochi, and then we just hit the ground running once we’re there.”
The 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia start on February 7-23.
Cross country skiing isn’t the only sport Alaskans targeting the Sochi Winter Olympics compete in. A Fairbanks man is vying for a spot on the U.S. speed skating team.
During last week’s regular Anchorage Assembly meeting dozens testified at the second public hearing on the 2014 Municipal budget.
They were concerned about two things: bus fares and library services.
This 2014 budget proposes increased bus fares. Jedediah Smith is a member of the municipal public transportation board. He testified in favor of the fare hike.
“We recognize that the cost of fuel has increased and we have not seen a single fare increase since 2005,” Smith said. “We believe after much deliberation that the board participated in that this is a modest increase in fares, but we also do not want to see a status quo or a decrease in people mover service.”
If the budget passes as is, Adult fares would go from $1.75 to $2.00. Seniors fares would double from 50 cents to $1.00. Anchor Rides, a ride service for people with seniors and people with disabilities would see a fee increase of 50 cents too, from $3.00 to 3.50.
Michael Wendland, who teaches special education in the Anchorage School District, lobbied the Assembly to keep fares the same for people with disabilities.
“If the funds are doubled from 50 cents to a dollar that means that the funds that we need to raise are also double. We don’t get a lot of funds from the school district so we have to do a lot of fund raising and grants,” Wendland said. “And furthermore, once our students transitions to adults they rely on fixed incomes from government programs so if their expenditures are doubled for transportation, they might not be able to afford that.”
Sam Dubois testified that raising fares for people who need public transportation would be counterproductive.
“It seems like on some level we’re taxing people or giving them a penalty or a fine because for whatever reason they’re unable to afford a car and the insurance that goes along with that or they choose not to use a car,” Dubois said. “So it would seem to be more productive long term if we kept the fares low or even lowered them to encourage people to use public transportation.”
The other big concern was library system. Many said it was not getting adequate funding under the proposed budget, especially for technology. Sue Sheriff said it was imperative that more money be allocated for improving online access.
“I invite you to visit the library after school or on weekends and wait 40 minutes to an hour to get on a public work station and do work at the still sluggish speeds offered to the public now,” Sheriff said.
Cheryl Lovegreen also spoke in support of technology upgrades and asked for more money to repair the building. She asked for an additional $260,000 for the library system to be added to the budget.
“This modest edition will make a huge difference to the library and its patrons. And will help it work to serve our residents for years to come,” Lovegreen said. “We also need to increase the capital request for the Loussac Library renovations so that we can maintain the aging building and renovate the failing entrance area.”
One person testified that pieces of the building were beginning to fall off, nearly hitting people below.
The proposed 2014 budget is around $470 million, which is 1 percent lower than the 2013 budget.
Mayor Dan Sullivan says the cuts will allow a drop in property taxes. Budget testimony was closed at Tuesday’s Assembly meeting.
There is a work session scheduled at City Hall on Friday at 11 a.m., where the final budget will be hashed out.
The office of Rep. Don Young says the congressman is fine after experiencing “minor chest discomfort” that prompted diagnostic tests this weekend.
Young was traveling in Southeast Alaska during a congressional work period when he felt chest pains. Young was initially examined at the Wrangell Medical Center, where staff advised him to travel to Anchorage for further testing. In a news release, his office said the Saturday afternoon tests resulted in a “clean bill of health.”
The 80-year-old Young had double bypass surgery for coronary heart disease in 1997.
Young was first elected to Congress in 1973 after winning a special election and with the Oct. 18 death of Rep. Bill Young of Florida became the longest serving Republican member of the U.S. House.
The gate agent announced to the passengers waiting to board it was my last flight through Fairbanks. While reviewing the flight paperwork, a gentleman approached, wanting to shake my hand, and wish me well in the upcoming retirement.
He was short, tan and fit looking. Across the front of his baseball cap it said, “World War II Vet.” He was 94. We chatted. He flew a B-17 bomber in Italy during the war. I quickly did the math. That would have made him 23 or 24. He would have been the “old man” on the airplane.
This summer I’ve been sharing war stories about those young flight crews serving in Europe, and the sacrifices they made. I’ve been volunteering as a pilot-docent on “Aluminum Overcast,” the Experimental Aircraft Association’s B-17 – a four-engine bomber known as the Flying Fortress.
I had the honor of talking with some of the surviving crew members. They may move a bit slower, (haven’t met one without a hearing aid) but they all remember. The missions, the excitement, the fear, the 0300 briefs, the bad eggs at breakfast, and the plane that brought them home safely.
Now, some 70 years later, we refer to those that served in WWII as the “Greatest Generation”. They were. Why did it take us so long to realize that?
Today’s military personnel? We haven’t labeled them yet. They’re just young men and women doing a job. The equipment has changed. Now it’s Blackhawks, C-17s, F-22s, and a variety of other sophisticated military equipment.
Our Alaskan soldiers are out there protecting our freedoms and striving to gain freedoms for others less fortunate. Some wear the uniform daily and others serve as Guardsmen, or citizen soldiers. They leave loved ones behind and deploy to Afghanistan.
Family members left behind sacrifice. Alone they cope with the daily crisis, be it a simple flat tire or a devastating car wreck. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other extended family members are doing whatever they can to encourage and support. During deployments the nightly news is cautiously watched.
The threats today may be different than the B-17 crews experienced but the potential outcome is the same. Losing body parts from German flak or by driving across an IED in Afghanistan has the same result – a changed life.
It’s not only an enemy threat – but dare I say it – our own military too. Non-combat losses in the B-17 were as bad as the combat losses. Midairs, training accidents, equipment failures, and weather, all contributed significantly. We may have the best military in the world but our troops today still have to deal with training mistakes, bad equipment and sometimes less than stellar political/military decisions. Yet, they are still willing to serve and protect.
Names and faces of those Alaskans I have known who paid with the ultimate sacrifice are popping into my head. Remembering is good but I wish I didn’t have to – I wish they were still here getting old enough to someday earn their own respectful “generation nickname”.
So when you see them, the Greatest Generation, or those now serving – Stop. Take a moment – say thanks. When you see their families, parents, grandparents at Costco – Stop and say thanks. It doesn’t have to be Veteran’s Day and they don’t have to be grey haired vets.
A 32-year-old Ketchikan man has been charged for allegedly stabbing another man during an argument Friday morning.
Ketchikan police say they received a report of a fight at 832 Buren Road at about 8:45 a.m. The argument started with a disagreement over some property, and allegedly turned physical, with one man grabbing a knife and reportedly cutting the other man’s stomach.
Officers arrested Simon Milne, and charged him with felony third-degree assault. He was due to be arraigned Friday afternoon in Ketchikan District Court. The second man, who was not identified, declined medical attention.
Senator Mark Begich addressed the issue of Military Sexual Trauma Treatment at a roundtable discussion at the YWCA in Anchorage last week.
Begich says one of the prevailing topics of conversation was around the need for more research into measures to prevent sexual assault.
“Doing a brain trauma is one thing; doing mental health service is another,” Begich said. “Sexual assault – trauma for sexual assault – is a whole [different] issue that we need to have some good, solid data to understand what’s the right approach for prevention.”
Another topic that came up is the gap in coverage availability between the military and civilian sectors. Begich says those are gaps that he and his counterparts in Washington DC can help fill.
“So, if you’re a military personnel that’s gone through sexual assault trauma, that you don’t have to say, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta go only to the military operations, maybe I can go see a civilian provider and get the same service,’ and not have to have any stigma or anything attached to it because you’re a military member,” he said.
Begich says he will take the ideas from the roundtable back to Washington DC and see what can be done through regulation and legislation.
Outside room 119 at Juneau-Douglas High School, a sheet of paper taped to the wall says, “FOG MACHINE IN USE.”
It’s the Friday before Halloween, and the usually no-nonsense control room and JDTV News anchor desk is dressed with spider webs, skeletons, jack-o-lanterns, black lights, and strobes.
Eleven students put together a live, 10-minute television newscast every week for their video production class. They shoot the video, write the scripts, and edit their stories. On Fridays, they run the studio cameras, a control room full of intimidating buttons, dials and screens, and go on camera as anchors and correspondents.
It’s a hectic scene as students – several in costume – distribute last-minute scripts, set mic levels, practice camera moves and load teleprompters.
And then there’s freshman Jessie Gregg. She’s in front of a green screen wearing a green bodysuit that covers her from neck to toe. It’s a visual effects gag. Viewers should only see her disembodied head and gloved hands floating over the weather graphics.
The effects test goes well.
“It was a little weird not to see my body when I like, looked on the screen, but it was – it’s a pretty cool effect,” Gregg says.
Mikko (and he goes by his first name with the kids, too) is busy, but there’s another idle observer in the studio. Carin Smolin manages the school district’s career and technical education programs, which includes Mikko’s contract.
“Mikko’s doing a great job. He’s been doing this for several years with us. And we’ve, we’ve got a full studio here, and people need to know about it,” Smolin says.
Much of the gear the class uses was donated by KTOO.
Then, from the anchor desk freshman Jade Kalk belts out, “Ready for rehearsal!” Smolin takes her leave.
The rehearsal gets under way and the first few minutes go smoothly. Gregg begins her weather routine:
“Thanks guys, and now for the weather. You may have noticed a teensie-bit of rain –“
But Mikko interrupts her midsentence on the squawk box.
“OK, bit of bad news. We need to stop our rehearsal there, we have 25 seconds to air,” he says, then ticks off a very fast, but intelligible series of instructions to the students sitting next to him in the control room and his two camera operators in the studio on headsets.
“Reset to the top please, black on air, first graphics ready. Ready two. Make sure you have the right script loaded. Ten seconds to air. We are recording. Quiet please.”
But there’s an equipment problem, and resetting takes more time than they have. The flurry of chatter and activity in the control room continues while dead air stretches on.
Eventually, Mikko begins counting down.
“Ready? We’re gonna go in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 — take all.”
The program opens with Kalk dressed as a gypsy and ninth grader Mirriam Meredith as a hippie at the anchor desk.
“Welcome to a very spooky episode of JDTV News,” Meredith says before the first scripted gag of the show. Kalk and Meredith say, “DUN DUN DUUUN!” as Keegan Brown on camera zooms in dramatically.
About 10 minutes later, the newscast winds down. There’s usually a burst of chatter after getting the all clear, but today the reaction is muted. There are a lot of deep sighs.
Mikko calls everyone into the control room.
The broadcast started almost half a minute late and went too long for the 10-minute slot on local cable channel 6. Viewers saw black at the beginning, and the show cut off before the end.
“How did we end up with black?” Brown asks.
“Prompter had a problem,” Mikko says. “And we cannot go without the prompter at the start of the show. K? What caused that problem? We weren’t ready. The script was not ready by deadline. The deadline for the script is before class on shoot day.”
They continue through the debrief identifying more problems. The students get a lesson in responsibility and consequences. Individual problems pile on and affect the whole team.
And the fog machine? They never fired it up.
The bell rings, and the students set aside their television responsibilities for the weekend – Mikko, too. He’ll be out of town next week, so the next show is truly a test.One week later
A week passes with Mikko out of town. In his absence, Calvin Zuelow is directing. It’s his third year taking the class, which is an elective.
The scripts were closer to being on time. They got through the rehearsal with enough time to make some script changes. And even though a key piece of equipment crashed a few minutes before air, everything came together to hit their live slot on time.
“It worked OK, there were a few technical problems, but there’s always technical problems,” Zuelow says. “You can’t really always foresee those.”
This week, we’re heading to Larsen Bay, a small community on Kodiak Island. Kara Darling works for the tribal office in Larsen Bay.
“My name is Kara Darling. I live in Larsen Bay, Alaska and I work at the tribal office.
“Well, we are in a bay — Larsen Bay — so we are on the coast, you see the ocean and there’s mountain all around.
“We have about two roads and, um, when you first get there you would see the post office, the school and the city building which is pretty much the extent of our office buildings besides the tribal office and the clinic.”
“We’re known as bear country because we have a lot of bears, um, in Larsen Bay in the summertime. We have about seven different — I think seven — lodges that people come out to see the bears and do the fishing. I think we even had Jonathan Taylor Thomas out here I heard.
“Right outside the tribal there’s a creek that leads to the ocean. And during the summertime you can go out there and just see bears about 10-15 feet away eating fish; and they’ll pretty much just leave you alone or they’ll just eat the fish. And like this last summer me and my supervisor looked out the window and there was a big baby cub just standing on its hind legs about three feet from our office.
“It’s actually even illegal to walk up to our dumpster in the summertime; you have to have a motor vehicle because there’s so many bears.”
“We also have a cannery here, so there’s a lot of people who come from all over the world to work here during summertime.
“In the winter it’s very very quiet… we probably only have, I would say less than 60 people. In the summertime it’s a lot more busy because we have all the lodges open and we have the cannery open.”
“I’ve lived here about a year and a half now.
“The rent is really cheap out here, to be honest. That’s probably one of the best things.
“It’s nice to be in a small community — everybody knows everybody — and practically everybody is related.
“We just had a, this Halloween carnival at the school last weekend — that was a lot of fun. The kids put it on, um, they decorated the gym all spookily and did a cakewalk and sold hot dogs and that type of stuff — played games.”
Nearly half of all states have right-to-work laws that prohibit contracts between employers and labor unions requiring workers to pay union dues.
Alaska is not one of them. But with a Republican dominated legislature and executive branch, it is seen as a state where right-to-work legislation could pass. No bills have been introduced here since 2011, and the issue does not seem to be a priority for business or political groups.
On the other hand, labor groups remain concerned about right-to-work and other efforts to thwart collective bargaining, as evidenced by a union sponsored training this week in Juneau attended by members of about a dozen local unions.
Gordon Lafer is a professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center and an associate with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. He’s studied the impact of right-to-work laws around the country and has an idea about how one would play out in Alaska.
“To cut to the chase, the impact would be to lower wages and benefits for both union and non-union workers, but not to do anything to draw jobs to the state,” he says.
Proponents of right-to-work laws often sell them as a way to increase employment in a particular area. But Lafer says the real goal is to weaken unions and workers’ rights in general. A study done by his colleagues at the Economic Policy Institute shows full-time employees in right-to-work states make about $1,500 less per year than employees in non-right-to-work states, regardless of whether they belong to a union. He also says workers are less likely get health insurance through their job in right-to-work states.
“The idea of right to work is to lower wages and benefits in hopes of drawing more manufacturers into the state,” Lafer says. “Because theoretically that’s why they would come, is because it’s cheaper because people make less.”
Lafer admits he’s not an expert on Alaska’s economy, but says it’s hard to believe manufacturers would flood to a state with such high transportation and shipping costs if right-to-work were enacted. Currently, manufacturing accounts for only about 4 percent of all jobs in the state, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
“On the flip side, the things that are here and are the big industries, which is mining, oil, tourism, seafood, and government employment including the military, like, those things aren’t going anywhere,” Lafer says. “They’re here because of the natural resources of the state, and the real question is not how to get them here, but whether those are going to be decently paying jobs or crappy jobs.”
Local labor groups brought Lafer to Juneau this week to give union members a primer on right-to-work issues.
Alaska Public Employees Association Business Manager Doug Swanson moved to the Capital City about a year ago from Wisconsin, where he saw firsthand how quickly anti-union legislation can be adopted. It took less than a month for the Wisconsin Legislature to approve Governor Scott Walker’s bill restricting public employee bargaining rights. Swanson says the same thing could happen in Alaska.
“The trend right now nationally is to whittle away at the rights workers have, regardless of what state you’re in, blue state or red state,” Swanson says. “And so, yeah, I’m worried that if we wait, we’re just going to be forever watching an erosion of the working class.”
In many states, chambers of commerce are the ones pushing for right-to-work laws, but not in Alaska – at least not yet. Ryan Makinster, Communications Director for the Alaska State Chamber, says the issue didn’t even come up at the organization’s recent legislative policy forum. Juneau Chamber of Commerce CEO Cathie Roemmich, who serves on the U.S. Chamber’s Committee of 100, says right-to-work is not on her radar.
The last time right-to-work was introduced in the Alaska Legislature was 2011, when a bill by the late Republican Representative Carl Gatto went nowhere.
Rodney Hesson is the Assistant Business Manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1547 in Juneau. He says even though right-to-work does not appear to be a priority for business or political groups in the state, it remains a concern for unions.
“Right-to-work has been introduced previously. So this is just an ongoing conversation,” Hesson says. “And having more facts – reliable facts – to have a decent conversation about what we’re really talking about, that’s the main reason I’m here.”
In 2012, Alaska ranked second nationally behind New York in the percentage of its workforce covered by a union.
The right-to-work training was sponsored by the Juneau Central Labor Council, the Juneau Building Trades, and the American Federation of Teachers.
The Alaska Court of Appeals has found a former law was ambiguous with regard to whether it banned text messaging while driving.
The decision comes in the case of Tyler Adams, who in 2011 was charged with texting while driving. Magistrate Jennifer Wells granted Adams’ request to have the case dismissed, citing unclear language in the law.
While some lawmakers said they intended to ban texting while driving with the 2008 law, the appeals court, in a memorandum opinion, found the legislative intent in that regard was ambiguous “at best.” The law referred to driving with a “screen device operating” but didn’t mention text messaging.
Legislators in 2012 amended the law to spell out circumstances in which someone would commit the crime of driving while texting.