My Turn: Oil jobs going to outsiders

Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2003

While giving the oil and gas industry tax breaks may be a good idea to stimulate more investment and thus increase revenue and jobs to the state, it does not address the decades-old and controversial issue of Alaskan hire in the industry.

During a recent press conference, Gov. Murkowski brought up the issue of Alaskan hire. He and Greg O'Claray picked on the tourist industry for not giving first shot at jobs to our young Alaskans. They were holding up lists of companies and blasting the industry for advertising "outside" offering good paying jobs in Alaska. It's good to see they are fighting for those low -paying jobs while there is a bill circulating to pay 18- and 19-year-olds less than the minimum wage.

At one time Alaska had numerous opportunities for young people to make good money in this state in industries such as fishing, oil, mining and government. Now they are expected to work for substandard wages in industries dominated by outside ownership.

There are still plenty of opportunity and good paying jobs available in this state for both the young and older workforce - opportunity and jobs that have been taken by outsiders in the growing oil industry. The myths portrayed by the industry that they're doing all they can to hire Alaskans, but they just cannot find the qualified workers up here is hogwash.

The simple fact is that Alaskan union workers have essentially been locked out from the North Slope work since 1985. These are the men and women that built the TAPS pipeline and the North Slope and Valdez infrastructure. These highly skilled and trained workers are 90 to 100 percent Alaska residents.

The oil industry now consists of more than 14,000 workers employed by hundreds of non-union companies. These companies have historically hired large numbers of nonresidents. The DOL estimated for 2001 there were more than 4,000 nonresident workers in the industry, an increase of 1,325 nonresidents from two years earlier. This estimate is low since it is based on less than 50 companies. However, more than 400 companies belong to the Alaska (oil) Industry Support Alliance so the actual number of nonresidents is substantially higher. According to DOL these nonresident workers earn more than twice the average of Alaska residents.

These are mostly non-union companies whose workers have the reputation of doing anything to keep their job, including working for any wage and shirking any quality, safety or environmental standard to appease their employer.

Bill Allen of Veco, the largest non-union oil support firm in the state, has one of the worst resident-hire records in the industry at more than 1,000 nonresidents. Allen and his Alliance buddies contribute money to the Legislature and governor while lobbying them to reduce taxes for the oil industry while telling the state what we need or don't need in terms of government services or regulations. For their efforts these companies are awarded major North Slope contracts and are also provided with a hidden protection from scrutiny on issues such as Alaskan hire. This is why you don't see Murkowski holding up lists of nonunion oil field companies during his press conferences and blasting them for their poor hiring performance.

On the other hand the Alaska unions set the standards in quality, performance, safety, training, wages and equal opportunity. It is time Alaskans and their unions got their fair share of the work back in the oil industry. It is time for the oil industry to the show the respect the Alaskan workers deserve.

With the anticipated high demand for both oil and gas in the Lower 48, there is going to be a boom in this state for the next 10 to 20 years. Thousands of miles of pipelines will be built around the state. There will be great opportunity for many young Alaskans to be trained and enter into high-paying jobs in the oil and gas industry.

Any incentives given to the industry should include language such as resident-hire stipulations that may include "Alaskan hire incentive credits" and "Alaskan union preference." If they don't meet the criteria, then any incentive should be taken away and a higher tax should be imposed as a consequence.

Tim O'Donnell of Juneau is 35-year resident of the state who has worked in the construction trades and oil industry for 29 years.

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