Press coverage tells only half the story

Posted: Monday, February 14, 2000

The recent press release on Feb. 1 from Alaska's Department of Labor discussing a ``dramatic improvement in resident hire'' continues to illustrate the influence big oil holds over the current administration.

Also peculiar is the abbreviated reporting by Alaska's newspapers and the shallow overview by The Associated Press parroting this same topic.

The press release cited improvements over the last 10 years and noted that nonresident hire peaked at 24 percent in 1992, but had dropped to 19.5 percent by 1998, the lowest in a decade.

The press release pointed out gains made in the food processing and construction industries in terms of residents hired, but when discussing the oil industry, which ranks fourth in hiring nonresidents, conspicuously left out the number of Alaskans hired and focused only on resident and nonresident earning statistics.

Based upon the Department of Labor's ``Nonresidents Working in Alaska'' reports, the most obvious reason for this is the dismal progress made by the oil patch industry over the last 10 years.

From 1991 to at least 1995, while total oil industry employees declined, the Department of Labor was reporting that as nonresidents increased from 21 percent to 27 percent, Alaskan residents decreased from 79 percent to 73 percent of total industry workforce.

In essence, the oil industry was replacing Alaskan residents with nonresidents. The Department of Labor is currently reporting in its ``Alaska Economic Trends,'' February 2000 that, during a temporary economic upswing in 1998, the oil industry decreased the nonresident workers from 29 percent in 1997 to 27.4 percent in 1998 which essentially puts them back to the 1995 nonresident hire rate.

At the same time DOL also acknowledges that changes to the number of nonresidents in the oil industry have been small during the 1990s. Further employment information found in this report indicates that major oil companies- a segment of the oil industry, showed flat employment numbers and no improvement in resident hire performance from 1997 to 1998. Even more problematic, the report noted that in 1998, the oil industry paid residents an average of $16,926 per quarter worked while paying nonresidents $19,085 per quarter. In 1996 and 1997 residents were paid comparable to nonresidents. Have we made progress in the oil patch industry even though the governor and certain members of the Alaska legislature extracted local hire promises from the industry when negotiating the Northstar leases in 1996? I think the answer is no based upon DOL's local hire reports. Will the state see vast improvement in local hire if the BP oil merger is successful?

The BP oil merger charter, approved by Governor Knowles, has incorporated voluntary reporting provisions similar to the Northstar legislation. Based upon the oil patch industry hiring record, it looks doubtful.

Merle Jenson

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