Lawsuit prompts Attorney General opinion calling Alaska Hire unconstitutional

(KTUU)

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - On Thursday Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson issued an opinion calling the state's resident preference law, commonly referred to as Alaska Hire, unconstitutional.

Alaska Hire requires some private companies contracting with the state to hire a set percentage of local workers on certain projects.

In July, Colaska, a large construction company doing business as SECON in Southeast Alaska filed suit against the State of Alaska claiming the law was unconstitutional. The company was represented by former Attorney General Michael Geraghty, who was appointed by former Gov. Sean Parnell.

"That's what brought it to the forefront. We had to make a decision. Was this a case that was defensible?," Clarkson said in a teleconference Friday. "We took a hard look at it and there was no way for the statute to survive a constitutional challenge that was being made. So rather than expend state resources defending a law that was going to be struck down again, we issued a decision to that effect."

Alaska state laws intended to prioritize hiring Alaskan workers have been struck down in three major cases since 1960. Clarkson says other attorneys general have had questions about the statute, but since there was no lawsuit there was no inquiry into the current law.

The attorney general's opinion does not change the law. However, he recommended that the state no longer enforce the law.

Joelle Hall, Director of Operations at Alaska AFL-CIO says she fears the opinion could lead to more unemployment in the Alaska workforce.

"I think the impacts could be catastrophic for Alaska. We're already in a recession, we have the highest unemployment in the country. We have double the national rate of unemployment, and now we have an opportunity where whatever state construction is happening can be done by people who don't live here, potentially driving our unemployment rate even higher," Hall said.

Hall noted that the Alaska Hire statute has been in place since 1987 and both Republican, Democratic and independent administrations have upheld the law.

On Friday, members of the Alaska Senate Democrats and the Alaska House Majority sent a letter to the governor calling on him to defend the Alaska Hire statute.

"Your efforts seeking to end local hire preference are clearly detrimental to Alaskans and harm our communities, particularly given our state's current fiscal situation and the financial burdens and anxieties Alaskan families are now experiencing each day," the letter reads. "Instead of unilaterally interpreting this law in a different manner than any other administration in the past three decades, we urge you to do everything possible to defend Alaska's local hire law and our workforce. To do otherwise would open the floodgates for huge multinational corporations to flood the State with cheap nonresident labor - thus diminishing wages and benefits for all Alaskans."

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