Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson says it is unconstitutional to require companies to hire Alaska workers instead of out-of-state workers.
His legal opinion was published late Thursday, but it is not clear when, how or whether the governor’s administration will implement it. If he does, the administration would overturn nearly 60 years of policy from Republican and Democratic governors and legislators, and the legal opinions of Clarkson’s predecessors.
“To me, that’s just another nail in the coffin of this administration not standing up for Alaskans,” said Vince Beltrami, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, when asked about Clarkson’s decision.
Matt Shuckerow, the governor’s press secretary, said the administration “absolutely encourages all employers to hire Alaskans before looking Outside,” but legally mandating companies to hire Alaskans may be in question.
“The rest of the administration is reviewing it now,” he said.
According to the latest available figures from the Department of Labor, one in five Alaska workers does not live in the state. That proportion has held steady for the past several years; since the state started tracking those figures in 1986, the high was 1991, when 27% of the state’s workers did not live in Alaska.
Since 1960, Alaska has repeatedly attempted to require companies operating in the state to hire Alaskans rather than workers from out of state. The U.S. Supreme Court and Alaska Supreme Court have frequently thrown out those laws on various grounds, meaning only a sliver of the local-hire law actually remains.
That sliver applies to the construction industry, where the Alaska Department of Transportation can require companies to prefer Alaska workers if projects are in a “zone of underemployment.” State officials traditionally have designated the entire state as such a zone.
In July, SECON — a large Southeast Alaska construction firm — sued the state, saying that practice “discriminates against non-Alaskans and the companies that employ them to work on public works projects in Alaska.”
The case has not yet been heard in court, but in a press conference Friday afternoon, Clarkson said the state offered to settle the matter. He explained that in his view, it doesn’t make sense to launch an expensive defense when it appears likely that the state would lose.
According to Clarkson’s account, SECON’s attorney, former Alaska attorney general Michael Geraghty, said a settlement was possible if the state gave up on a pending fine against the company and wrote an attorney general opinion on the matter.
“We made no promise of what the conclusion of the AG opinion would be,” Clarkson said.
Geraghty declined to answer questions about that settlement but provided a prepared statement from SECON in which the company said its workforce is “well over 85% Alaska residents.”
“We believed the state’s local hire scheme was unconstitutional,” the statement read, “and we are pleased that, after a lengthy analysis, the state has acknowledged our position is correct.”