Governor, unions launch sneak attack on small business - Must Read Alaska
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Thursday, October 21, 2021
HomePoliticsGovernor, unions launch sneak attack on small business

Governor, unions launch sneak attack on small business

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Can your truck be considered a place of business if you’re an independent truck driver? Is your truck cab your office? Maybe or maybe not, says Gov. Walker.

If you don’t shell out cash to advertise for new customers, will the State decide you’re not really a contractor? Probably. At the very least, you’re going to have to prove you are an independent contractor to the Alaska Department of Labor. If Walker’s legislation passes, they’ll fine you first, ask questions later.

“Investigators will investigate as they always do and they will assess a penalty,” said Department of Labor Director of the Division of Workers Compensation Marie Marx to the House Labor and Commerce Committee on Wednesday. And if you don’t like the assessment, you can ask for a hearing, she said, calling it a more efficient way of doing business.

“We anticipate that fewer assessments will go toward hearings,” said Marx. She may be right — after all, independent contractors are awfully busy just trying to make a living.

Independent contractors in Alaska would be defined so narrowly by the Walker Administration that many would be relabeled as employees of other contractors, and would be required to be covered by  the prime contractor’s workers compensation insurance. This is a move that is hostile to small businesses.

It’s all part of HB 79, a job-killing bill that passed out of House Labor and Commerce Committee yesterday over the objections of pro-business Republicans.

The bill, offered up by the Department of Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas, impacts tens of thousands of Alaska workers who are trying to make a living in a state that has a rapidly shrinking economy. Over 7,500 jobs are forecasted to be lost this year in a state that already has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.

HB 79 says that if you are a contractor who uses independent subcontractors in your business, in all-too-many cases you would be forced to consider them employees and cover them by your insurance.  But, that is not the half of it. Other benefits and payroll taxes would also be due, once the employer-employee relationship is established.

It’s a move that will sharply increase the cost of doing business and limit the free market.

In small Alaska communities, which is most of them, people work at various jobs to patch together a living. They may have a contractor’s license, but may do frequent work for a larger contractor who comes into town to do a job. They may have various contract arrangements. This is how Alaskans manage to keep going in small economies from Tok to Togiak, from Ketchikan to Kaktovik. It’s the way it’s been done in Alaska since, well, forever. And it favors the worker and the entrepreneur.

TRUCKERS HIT, BUT CONSULTANTS TOO

In House Labor and Commerce Committee, Aves Thompson, who represents the Alaska Truckers Association, explained to the committee that many truckers in Alaska get work by word of mouth. When they need a job, they don’t advertise, which is one of the check-box requirements of the Department of Labor as it evaluates whether you are truly a contractor.

“We dealt with this issue last year in a piece of legislation that was in fact introduced by Rep. [Gabrielle] LeDoux,” said Thompson. “We think this bill in principle is good — we just have a few difficulties with it in this independent contractor paragraph.”

Thompson said the bill was sprung on the business community this year. “We didn’t hear anything about it from anybody until the bill popped up in February, and they said ‘Here it is and here are the definitions.’

“We made contact with the department and started talking about it, and we give them credit, they made significant progress from original bill to the committee substitute.

“We felt that was progress,” he continued. “We again said we supported the bill in principle and there was some misunderstanding about what our level of support by our association was for this bill. I believe I tried to express my apology for that last Monday, for whatever part I played in making that error.”

Thompson was apologizing to the committee for the second time in a week.

Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau, lectures Alaska Trucking Association President Aves Thompson, and accuses him of trying to delay a bill that makes it harder to be an independent contractor. Thompson is shown in the box in the lower corner of this screen shot from 360north.org

But his apology wasn’t enough for Committee Chairman Sam Kito, a Juneau Democrat, who took after Thompson in front of the entire committee and dressed him down at length.

“I do think the department [of Labor] has done an admirable job of putting together and trying to accommodate the situation with the independent contractors. And I do think that efforts to try to delay the bill really are not appreciated,” Kito lectured Thompson.

Kito has been romantically linked to Commissioner Drygas, but sources in Juneau say that liaison is not current. He has never acknowledged the conflict of interest.

“So I would encourage you to work productively and constructively and provide statements that don’t misstate the position of the truckers, because on March 9 it seemed to be everything was OK, and now it’s not,” Kito said, jabbing at the air toward Thompson, who maintained a diplomatic silence during the rather unusual dressing-down.

The truckers aren’t the only ones who have trouble with the bill.

“It’s part of the broad theme of the Dept. of Labor being punitive toward employers,” said Rebecca Logan, president of the Alaska Support Industry Alliance.

“They are impacting wage payers. Instead of growing the pie of jobs, they’re trying to shrink the pie. They’re being punitive to employers by creating more policies so they can catch employers doing something wrong and fine them.” she said.

The business community — especially small business owners — use independent contractors and consultants (including professional consultants) to allow them to compete for jobs that are limited in time or that are very specific in scope. Many sole proprietors can only stay in business with the plug-and–play help of professional consultants who allow them to scale up their businesses as needed. This is especially the case in rural areas, but also relates to the North Slope oil patch. The independent subcontractors that these prime contractors use have their own business licenses and are fully accounted for in their transactions.

Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, a Republican from Wasilla, said she wanted the bill to be held until the identified problems were addressed.

But Chairman Kito refused: “I am interested in moving the bill today,” he said.

Rep. Louise Stutes, a Kodiak Republican who has thrown in her lot with the Democrat majority, agreed with Kito and said she was fine with the bill going forward, even though the business community objects: “This is year number three for me,” she said, of her years of experience. “And I’ve yet to see a perfect bill.”

Democrats Kito, Andy Josephson of Anchorage, Adam Wool of Fairbanks, and Democrat caucus member Stutes voted for HB 79, which now heads to the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Democrat Matt Claman of Anchorage.

Rep. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai, and Rep. Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla were in the minority, voting against it. Their objections related to the punitive effect on small businesses and restricting economic freedoms.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Where can we find the ‘check box list of requirements’ that the Department of Labor will be using as it evaluates whether you are truly a contractor?

    • Currently, the feds have one in the IRS 1040 instructions. The State bill expands on it.

  • This legislation is about turning Alaska into California… where the Fruits and Nuts hold millions in slavery – some to taxes and others to entitlements. Many businesses are structured to take advantage of the independent contractor laws, some unjustly so. The burn mark on Heidi’s posterior tells us all we need to know – it’s about hatred of business and the working class. It WILL kill jobs, and more than a few businesses. Walker thinks this is about being “fair” and including these folks in his tax schemes. In trying to be “fair” Walker is persecuting the engine of economy, small business. How much new bureaucracy will it take to enforce this? AKDOL will grow in size and power while Alaska shrinks. Let’s try growing ourselves out of the Alaska Economic Depression.

  • If it moves , TAX IT. Another page from the Progressive playbook, force workers to fork over a portion of their rightful earnings, give it to a state entity, and return a smaller portion in the form of entitlements, while increasing the size and scope of the state entity. Control, and theft , in plain language. I would hope free citizens will respond to these gangsters with a FU, and run the criminals out of town.

  • This will put a lot of people out of work. The cost of handyman is virtually the same as GC (license, bonding, and the insurance). It ends up only about a $400 differance, but mainly in bonding. That law changed about 2 years ago.

    So now, some people have gone GC that should not on there own. It competes with legit GC’s. In small SEAK towns, there is typically not enough work to be stable on your own. You must partner with another as the job flex is available. This was the first problem!

    With this new setup, most GC’s will not survive. Only bigger companies can pursue. Possibly becoming monopolies in some cases. Many companies from other states could better compete. Bringing even higher cost of living. Forcing local businesses to possibly be eliminated in many places. More people will be without jobs even farther down the line.

    Ultimately, the state will likely be hurting themselves in the future; along with its people. It’s hard enough to make a living as it is in most Alaskan towns. I know this because I live it!

    This bill is not at all good for many people in Alaska. It will effect alaskan consumers and the state in a very bad way. Not just in the near term, but in the future as well! A different approach needs have to be made for the state monitor these business.

    • Yeah there are some typos. This was difficult to write via tiny phone. :/

  • I am a tax accountant with more than 40 years experience, and both the article and the comments are essentially nonsensical. The 1099 economy in fact has always been illegal; the definition of what an employee is or is not are matters of well-established Federal law that due to politics have not been enforced recently to the extent they have been in the past. You just screw yourself when you work on a 1099 because you have zero benefits and pay all of your own social security and medicare taxes, where as an employee the employer covers the benefits and pays half of the social security and medicare. Avoiding paying worker’s comp insurance allows the gyppos to underbid more honest contractors which leaves your town with nothing but the gyppos. Very stupid. Suzanne is cute, but doltish.

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