As a construction worker, I’ve seen how our industry was affected by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Private sector projects got put on hold or canceled, and our state continued to lose skilled craftspeople to the Lower 48. Now sharply rising material prices are making it harder for our industry to recover. Fortunately, the U.S. Senate can help Alaska construction workers and our industry by supporting the PRO Act.
The PRO Act modernizes federal labor law, ensuring our industry is well positioned to thrive in the modern era. Many of our national labor statutes were written during the Great Depression, and it’s no surprise they need to be updated. The PRO Act does not deviate from our instilled core values of respect for an individual’s rights nor fairness for industry. These values must remain ingrained to preserve our basic freedoms as free people, but our laws must keep pace with changing technology and a changing economy.
In Alaska, we are very fortunate. For generations, we’ve trained skilled craftspeople through apprenticeship programs that are run and funded jointly by contractors and labor unions. We have more unionized workers than almost any other state in the nation, and our union trades have built and maintained critical infrastructure across the state, from the trans-Alaska oil pipeline to our highways to our largest buildings. When our contractors and union members invest in training, it’s a win-win-win for our contractors, workers, and the state. We all benefit from a well-trained workforce where everyone earns a living wage. Union workers have a vested interest in their respectful craft and historically have put out a much higher quality of output. When a person is well taken care of, they take pride and ownership in their work and the loyalty that results cannot be trained.
The PRO Act will help sustain and grow that workforce by making labor-management relations more efficient. It discourages endless delays in union elections and establishes a faster process to establish a first collective bargaining agreement when employees do choose to unionize. Delay and uncertainty will not help anyone. By making the process more efficient the PRO Act will reduce uncertainty and help ensure businesses can resolve collective bargaining agreements and get to work winning bids.
To provide a more level playing field, the PRO Act updates laws to ensure employers respect their employees’ choice of whether or not to form a union. Most Alaska construction contractors respect their employee’s choice of whether or not to unionize, but sometimes we see bottom-feeder firms from the Lower 48 try to come up here and poach work from Alaska businesses. When the law ensures a level playing field, our contractors will win bids and deliver great projects for the public. The PRO Act helps provide that level playing field.
I applaud Congressman Don Young for his leadership in helping pass the PRO Act through the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressman Young has always supported our construction and resource development industries, and this is just the latest example. Now the PRO Act is in the Senate, and I hope Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan will cosponsor this bill and vote to pass it. The construction industry is essential for Alaska’s strong middle class, and the PRO Act will make sure Alaskans continue to have great careers in this industry.
Clay Strickland is a gold miner, home builder, entrepreneur and general foreman for a spill response company based in Valdez. The views expressed here are his own.
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