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Unions raise concerns with Labor head's education, experience

New commissioner attended UAS, has GED certificate

Posted: May 31, 2012 - 11:09pm

Alaska’s new labor commissioner, who state officials say attended the University of Alaska Southeast, now appears to not have finished high school.

Dianne Blumer, appointed commissioner of the Department of Labor & Workforce Development by Gov. Sean Parnell, has a GED certificate, or high school equivalency diploma, obtained by those who don’t complete high school for one reason or another.

Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow confirmed some details of Blumer’s educational background this week, nearly two weeks after her appointment.

As commissioner, Blumer earns $135,000 a year for overseeing the department responsible for worker’s compensation, unemployment, labor statistics, and a number of worker training programs aimed at ensuring the state has competent workforce and is a good place to do business.

Leighow defended Blumer’s qualifications for the job.

“There is nothing in statute regarding educational requirements for commissioners,” she said.

Leaders of two state employee unions raised concerns about the appointment, though they also said Blumer may do well in the post.

Previous commissioners have frequently had labor or job training experience that was directly related to the department’s mission.

Blumer, under her former name Dianne Kiesel, served as director of the Division of Personnel and in other positions in state government, and was involved in the ownership of two Juneau businesses, Sunkissed Tanning and Ward Air.

“She has experience dealing with public employee unions, but that’s completely different from dealing with worker’s compensation and labor training programs,” said Jake Metcalfe, business manager for the Public Safety Employees Association.

“So when I hear there’s a GED it makes me wonder what the qualifications are for the job,” he said.

Alaska State Employees Association Business Manager Jim Duncan said he’s known Blumer for many years, but said his concerns about the appointment don’t stem from her GED.

“She may not have a great education background, but I think the experience she’s had and what she’s done show she’s bright enough to do that job,” he said.

Duncan said his concerns stem from Blumer’s lack of experience dealing with trade unions, instead of government unions.

It will take substantial work for her to get acquainted with that aspect of her job, given the lack of relevant experience, he said.

“The governor appoints who he wants to appoint, but I was surprised at the appointment,” he said.

“Commissioner Blumer was appointed by Governor Parnell based on her 20-plus years of management and work experience that includes human resource administration, payroll compensation, pension reporting, collective bargaining, grievance arbitration, mediation, workforce planning and development, job classification and recruitment,” Leighow stated in an email.

Parnell’s appointment, coming after the end of the legislative session’s end, means that legislative confirmation hearings and a vote will not come until the end of next year’s legislative session, nearly a year away. Her appointment took effect May 21.

Metcalfe also said that Blumer’s having been found in contempt by the Alaska Senate after failing to comply with a subpoena as part of the Troopergate investigation may also hamper her relations with the Legislature and potentially her ability to advocate for the department and on labor issues.

Leighow said Blumer received her GED in 1982, but provided no information on who awarded it. She also provided no information about her University of Alaska Southeast attendance, including the name she was using at the time.

The resume Leighow provided makes no mention of education at all, and has no entries between 1982 and 1986, when Blumer began managing a motel in Sitka.

Senate Labor and Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said he didn’t know Blumer despite her 17 years living in Juneau.

“We’re happy that she has Southeast Alaska ties, but we wished she lived here, that would make me happier,” he said.

Blumer has lived in Anchorage since 2007, and has said she will run the department from there.

“At least she understands the issues of Southeast, that’s a big thing for our delegation, but we're all concerned that it’s not somebody that’s been involved in labor,” Egan said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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