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State aims to make sure contractors keep Alaska workers safe

  • Author: Bill Walker
    | Opinion
    , Heidi Drygas
    | Opinion
  • Updated: July 28, 2017
  • Published July 28, 2017

(Pixabay)

Our administration is committed to building a safer Alaska. We've taken steps to reform our criminal justice system, tackle the state's opioid epidemic and reduce the rates of sexual assault and domestic violence. Protecting Alaskans is critical, and that mission extends to the workplace as well.

That's why Gov. Bill Walker signed Administrative Order 286. The order brings accountability to state spending on contracts by ensuring companies receiving public money comply with state and federal wage and safety requirements. During the next several months, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development will work with the Department of Administration to create some important safeguards for future state contracts, including a pre-qualification process.

Most businesses operate in good faith and engage in responsible business practices. But since state contracts are typically awarded to the lowest responsible bidder, the entire system is put at risk when a few contractors break the law to drive down their bid prices and undercut the many law-abiding contractors. These practices endanger Alaska workers.

In recent years, the Department of Labor has handled numerous complaints of businesses misclassifying their employees as "independent contractors" in an attempt to avoid responsibility for workers' compensation, insurance and health care costs. While this may grow a company's bottom line, it puts employees at risk because the company has no incentive to ensure its workplaces are safe, or that its employees have the appropriate qualifications, background and equipment to perform their job duties. This type of misclassification is also illegal.

Companies with a confirmed history of such abuses deserve additional scrutiny when they bid for contracts. The administrative order will provide another layer of protection for Alaskans everywhere by ensuring their employers are playing by the rules and doing their utmost to keep them safe.

The good news is that the vast majority of Alaska businesses are already doing the right thing and take the protection and safety of their employees seriously. For these companies, this order is a win too, since it will help cut down on practices that cost them valuable work opportunities.

Ultimately, building a safer Alaska requires us all to pull together and address the issues Alaskans face every day. We've done so with public safety, corrections and opioids, and are now continuing those efforts in the workplace. Alaskans deserve to be protected, no matter where they are.

Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, has served as governor since 2014. Heidi Drygas is commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

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