Alaska union leader resigns to take bigger job

Posted: Monday, November 25, 2002

ANCHORAGE - Mano Frey, a leader of organized labor in Alaska for a quarter-century, is leaving the state to accept a more powerful job in Seattle.

Frey, 53, will resign in January as the executive president of the Alaska AFL-CIO and business manager for Laborers' International Union Local 341.

Frey will take over as vice president and regional manager for the Laborers', overseeing union operations in eight Western states, Alaska and four Canadian provinces.

Frey said it will be difficult to say goodbye after 32 years in Alaska.

"It's pretty traumatic for both my wife and I," he told the Anchorage Daily News.

Frey's wife, Eileen, a teacher, will finish the school year before joining him in Seattle. The couple's two grown children, who live in Alaska, will stay behind.

Frey's name has been synonymous with labor for so long that some of his colleagues said it's hard to imagine union politics without him. He has helped shape policy and has been at the forefront of virtually every major battle between management and labor since being elected head of the AFL-CIO in Alaska in 1984.

"It's going to be a major void," said Royce Rock, business manager for Carpenters Local 1281.

A college drop-out, Frey rode the oil boom, arriving in Alaska in 1970 with Steve McAlpine, a former lieutenant governor. The two buddies, taking a semester off from college, showed up in Valdez and worked as laborers building the pipeline. McAlpine went back to school and became a lawyer.

"I was satisfied working," Frey said.

He joined the Laborers' in 1971 and became business agent, a staff position, six years later, Frey said. He moved to Anchorage in 1978.

Those who have worked with Frey over the years describe him as easy-going, reasonable and direct, and someone who is passionate about his work.

"He's been a fierce champion for working families," said Gov. Tony Knowles. "There's no hidden agenda."

Besides leading labor unions, Frey has been on many business-related boards and commissions. He is on the executive committee of the Resource Development Council and is co-chairperson of Arctic Power, a state-funded lobbying group pressing for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He also sits on the Denali Commission, created by Congress as a federal-state partnership to improve life in rural Alaska by promoting economic development and building infrastructure.

Frey's likely successor is Jim Sampson, a former state labor commissioner and former mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Frey said he will recommend Sampson.

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