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PRO Act will harm Alaska workers, businesses

  • Tuesday, July 20, 2021 11:28pm
  • Opinion

As Alaskans first and foremost, but also as small business owners who’ve worked across the state in a variety of sectors, we write in opposition to the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act). We do not think this complicated, overarching and one-sided legislation represents the interests of Alaskans and would harm our economy at a time when relief is desperately needed. Our shared experience owning and operating Hutchings Auto Group in Soldotna, serving as local elected officials and being engaged citizens provide unique perspective to the threats posed by the PRO Act.

It’s not just us that believe the PRO Act would harm the Alaska way of life. A recent poll found that 81% of Alaskans believe federal laws should continue to protect the rights of Alaskans to work as independent contractors. Moreover, when informed of the specifics of the PRO Act, 71% of Alaskans think the legislation, if passed, would dramatically limit their ability to work as independent contractors.

Our primary concern is that the PRO Act would drastically change and alter the relationship between businesses and employees — giving the government unjust overarching authority. This is done in many ways, including making substantial changes to collective bargaining rights and changing the status of independent contractors — all of which, when coupled together, make the PRO Act harmful to the 49th State.

While all of these measures are concerning, we are especially concerned by the proposed changes to the status of independent contractors. Many Alaskans choose to be independent contractors because it allows them to develop their own business or juggle work and family time. Seasonal industries, including the energy and fishing sectors, two of our state’s most important economic drivers, rely on independent contractors to ensure flexibility both for them and their workers. It’s not unusual for Alaskans to spend their winters working on the North Slope as a petroleum engineer and their summers on the Kenai River guiding tourists. From fishermen to pilots, and college students working part-time, to small-business entrepreneurs and more, the PRO Act would restrict their ability to choose employment that fits Alaskans’ unique and individualistic lifestyle.

The PRO Act’s constraining “ABC Test” (that was first piloted in California) would limit both workers’ and employers’ abilities to choose independent contract work. Under the proposal, they would be forced to opt-in as full-time employees — if they are even given the opportunity. With so many businesses just now starting to find their footing after the COVID-19 pandemic and government-imposed restrictions, we are concerned that sweeping changes to the labor laws and practices will further dampen economic growth in our state.

According to the previously mentioned poll, Alaskans from union and nonunion households are concerned about the PRO Act’s potential impacts on independent contract work. The poll also found that Alaskans want the right to choose to work as independent contractors by a 3-1 margin. The 49th State is a special place that has always attracted individuals who want the freedom and flexibility to decide when and where they work. Many choose seasonal work so they can take time to enjoy Alaska’s glorious summers.

Outside solutions rarely work here. When Alaskans learned more about the PRO Act, more than half agreed it was not the right approach for Alaska. Moreover, the poll found that even a majority of union members disagree with the bill’s sweeping changes. We fundamentally disagree with the policies in the PRO Act and find now a most egregious time to alter labor market rules in a state that’s only beginning to recover economically. Alaska’s workforce needs the flexibility to follow their passions, start their own businesses, or work when they prefer.

Alaska is unique. The PRO Act would implement flawed Lower 48 ideology and leave many Alaskans no other choice but to give up the independence they so dearly treasure. Businesses and workers need the continued support of the state to turn Alaska’s economy around, not policies designed to limit worker choice and erect new barriers to investment. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan are fundamentally pro-worker, pro-small business, and pro-economic development; therefore, we urge them to vote no on the PRO Act and preserve Alaska’s independent spirit.

Linda Hutchings was born and raised on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula as the child of homesteaders who moved to Soldotna in 1948. David Hutchings moved to Alaska at five years old and has owned and operated Hutchings Auto Group in Soldotna for decades with his wife, Linda. They’ve each had distinguished careers and give back to their communities, with Linda serving on the Soldotna City Council.


By DAVID and LINDA HUTCHINGS


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