OPINION: We’re former Alaska labor commissioners. We’re disturbed by this administration suppressing teacher pay data.

As former labor commissioners for the state of Alaska, we had the privilege of working with hundreds of dedicated employees who provide invaluable support, protection, and assistance to Alaskan workers and employers. We found this dedication to mission exemplified by the employees in the department’s Research and Analysis Section who, in their fair and impartial delivery of labor statistics, demographic data, and economic analysis, provide information of critical importance and value to Alaska’s policymakers, job seekers, employers, trade associations, labor organizations and training providers. One need only look at the list of presentations by section staff, such as the recently retired (after 45 years of yeoman service) Neal Fried or Research Chief Dan Robinson, in the course of a year to government agencies, the Legislature, economic development conferences and trade associations to gauge the level of trust which Alaskans place in the work of Research and Analysis.

For over 50 years, the repository for much of this information and analysis has been the publication Alaska Economic Trends, recognized both in Alaska and nationally as an essential tool for understanding Alaska’s unique economy. During those 50-plus years, across numerous administrations — Republican, Democrat, independent (and Independence) — that trust has been shared by Alaska’s leaders, as evidenced by the fact that Trends has always been free of any “thumb on the scale” interference from the commissioner’s or governor’s offices. Why? Primarily because accurate economic data and analysis — especially the forecasting of labor and workforce needs — is too important to mess with.

Unfortunately, the current administration has chosen to question the impartiality of an article regarding changes in the level of teacher wages in Alaska relative to those in the Lower 48 over the past 40 years and, in an unprecedented and heavy-handed action, pulled the article from publication. We have read the article and would encourage you to do so. It’s available online at a link in the Alaska Beacon story, “Alaska governor’s staff deleted state agency’s analysis of teacher pay.”

Read it. See if you find anything controversial, unfair, or biased in it. We sure don’t.

[Related opinion: Governor’s office censorship of labor data is troubling]

The governor’s office has apparently been non-responsive to any inquiry as to what they found problematic. The article made no reference to the governor’s recent veto of half of the $175 million increase in education funding passed by the Legislature, and the article clearly states that most of the reasons for Alaska teacher pay going from first in the nation in 1980 to tenth place in 2022 occurred decades ago, so the administration’s problem with the article is hard to fathom. In the unlikely event they have valid concerns with the content, they should be willing to share them.

Acting Commissioner Cathy Muñoz only muddied the waters with her contention in an email to the Alaska Beacon: “There was concern that one article …. deviated from the publication’s standard of neutrality. As Commissioner for the Department it is my responsibility to ensure that the information we put out is unbiased and fair. Accordingly, the article in question was not published as drafted in the October edition of Trends.”


It’s ironic that the real deviation from a standard — the one by which prior administrations have respected and supported the impartiality of the good work of the Research and Analysis Section in Trends and elsewhere — has been that of the governor’s and commissioner’s offices. They owe it to the Research and Analysis staff and the Alaska public that has relied on and trusted their work for the past 50 years to explain their objection to this benign but informative article.

Ed Flanagan served as Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development under Gov. Tony Knowles. Click Bishop served as Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development under Govs. Sarah Palin and Sean Parnell. Heidi Drygas served as Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development under Gov. Bill Walker. Jim Sampson served as Commissioner of Labor under Gov. Steve Cowper.

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