Privatizing may mean lost jobs

state may contract out telecomunnications work

Posted: Monday, May 22, 2000

The state plans to contract out more of its telecommunications needs, a move state workers say could cost more than 50 jobs, including 19 in Juneau.

State 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.

Chuck O'Connell, business manager for the Alaska State Employees Association, said the union representing the affected employees has a ``big problem'' with the plan as it stands now.

He would not discuss specifics of what ASEA doesn't like about the plan, he said, because the union will be pursuing 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 it appears the request for proposals is being pushed through very quickly, and 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 -- for items from Internet connections to maintenance of an emergency communications system, Poe said.

Already, about $20.5 million of that telecommunications service 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 all those telecommunications services that are already contracted out, plus part of the additional $5.5 million that is still done by the state.

Poe expects a consortium of companies, rather than one single company, will bid on the job, but they will be working together. ``This allows, we hope, some real efficiencies,'' he said.

``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 added.

Poe said labor contracts require the union be notified when any position ``might possibly'' be contracted out. The state initially told the union a maximum of 56 state jobs might be affected -- 29 in Anchorage, 19 in Juneau and eight in Fairbanks.

However, the proposal has been further refined since those numbers were provided, and the actual number of jobs affected will be fewer, said Karen Morgan, acting director of the Administration Department's information technology group. It's not clear yet how many fewer jobs, she said.

Whether the work actually will be contracted out depends on what kind of offer the private sector comes up with, Poe 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.

The actual request for proposals to do the work is scheduled to go out in mid-June. Poe said he expects responses would be back and the state would make a decision by late summer on awarding a four-year contract.

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