Listicle: How much does each at-will employee make? - Must Read Alaska
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Friday, July 10, 2020
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Listicle: How much does each at-will employee make?

The Alaska Policy Forum has published the list of the positions and salaries for at-will employees — those not covered by union contracts at the State of Alaska who are serving at the pleasure of the governor.

The list does not include judiciary or legislative appointees and is for 2017. Must Read Alaska spotted several names of those no longer working for the State of Alaska, but it’s still informative:

Compensation Costs for Executive Branch Exempt Employees

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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

  • HOLY CR*P.

  • This list includes all the vessel employees of the Marine Highway and all State employed teachers; they are exempt because of different recruiting methods or legal rights, not because they are “at will” or “serve at the pleasure employees and all are either under union contracts or subject to the State bargaining law. If people are going to publish such lists they really need to know what they’re looking at and get it right, the unions/Democrats are stirring up enough fear and loathing without people on our side of the ditch putting up grossly inaccurate stuff like this.

    • Thanks for pointing this out Art. I was looking at this list as well and that’s what I was noticing. It really gets folks riled up. While it does show some fat cat stuff, it also includes employees that aren’t really in the category required to “resign”. I will say I am quite surprised at some of the names I still see sucking on the teet though! Good Lord! I thought some of these cats were long gone! I would have thought I’d died and gone to heaven if I’d made that kind of money and they are still there raking it in.

      • Garnet Please see my comment below. This list was provided by the State of Alaska and no changes were made by the Alaska Policy Forum. The data provided by SOA included a column describing whether or not the person was exempt, partially exempt or belonged to a collective bargaining unit. It took awhile to get the list and the SOA refused to provide it in a searchable, spreadsheet format. The SOA stonewalled us.

        • Gotcha! I see what they did.

    • Art Chance This list was provided by the State of Alaska after many months of FOIA requests. Then the State provided it in a PDF format, not a spreadsheet format. After several more requests for the information in a spreadsheet format, the State refused to provide that. All the information provided included whether or not an employee was exempt, partially exempt, etc. That is what was provided by the Alaska Policy Forum–the same information provided by the State.

      • The issue is the meaning of the terms exempt and partially-exempt and neither is a synonym for “at will,” and even “at will” doesn’t mean what many people think it means. The Alaska Constitution establishes that the State will have “a merit system of employment.” That merit system is articulated in the State Personnel Act and all employees not explicitly something else are subject to the State Personnel Act the State Pay Plan and their appurtenances such as the leave and retirement systems and all employees are subject to some degree to the Public Employment Relations Act, the bargaining law.

        When the SPA was initially enacted in ’61, the State’s only unionized employees were the vessel employees of the Marine Highway System. Their Seattle unions wanted nothing to do with the Alaska rubes doing the hiring and firing of vessel employees and they sure didn’t want the complex system of competitive hiring from ranked registers of qualified candidates. It took an express statute to get the marine unions to even register with the Commissioner of Labor and establish a legal presence in Alaska, and after almost 60 years MM&P never has other than hiring a lobbyist here So, when the SPA was enacted, the Marine unions lobbied successfully to have vessel employees exempted from the Act.

        Teachers, and the State Operated School System (SOS) was taking over from BIA, so the State was about to have a lot of teachers and other school employees, developed an elaborate body of law governing teacher rights and personnel administration in Title 14 and since they were covered by explicit teacher and school employee law were exempted from the SPA.

        The rest of the exempt employees are those on an explicit list at AS 39.25.110 who are identified by job class or by organization or function. If your job isn’t covered by that list, you might be something else, but you can’t legally be exempt from the State Personnel Act and the State Pay Plan. And contrary to popular belief, exempt status doesn’t mean exempt from other State and federal labor and employment laws; it just means the job is exempt from the State Personnel Act and the State Pay Plan.

        Exempt status contemplates jobs that aren’t subject to the State’s regular recruitment methods, e.g., elected officials, so the Governor is exempt as are the commissioners who are subject to Legislative confirmation. Or, there may be jobs that cannot be recruited with the salary levels of the State Pay Plan, e.g., the psychiatrists, petroleum geologists, and others. And there are those jobs or organization that simply had the political swack to get themselves exempted from the surly bonds of the SPA and the State Pay Plan so that they could pay some much nicer salaries than mere merit system mortals get.

        And then there is my pet peeve in the exempt service, the “temporary exempt” authorized by AS 39.25.110(9). This designation is grossly and illegally abused and has been for years by both Democrats and Republicans. It is supposed to be someone performing some special and temporary inquiry for the Governor; something like the “dollar a year man,” some recognized expert in something who is supposed to look into something on behalf of the Governor. The Blue Ribbon Commissions that were once popular would come under this designation. Since it is definitionally a temporary job, it isn’t entitled to the benefits that inhere to permanent/probationary or partially-exempt employees such as leave, retirement credit, health insurance, etc. Knowles first director of personnel discovered that some temporary exempts weren’t really temporary and should be given the same benefits as regular employees, and the floodgates opened. The only qualification for a temporary exempt was to know somebody who could hire you and get the Governor’s Office to sign off on it, and that signing off became pretty much perfunctory. And, you weren’t constrained by that silly old State Pay Plan or union contracts, the right check or the right bed would get you however much your benefactor had to guts to pay you. Most of these appointments are illegal and paying benefits for any of them is definitely illegal but the political class is addicted to them, so there are lots of them.

        Partially-exempt (PX) employees are mostly the true political appointees such as Deputy Commissioners and Special Assistants, Division Directors and such, plus the Legislature placed all State lawyers in the partially-exempt service. PX employees do not have to be and usually aren’t recruited competitively, or more correctly aren’t selected competitively; the hiring manager doesn’t have to rank candidates and such; s/he can hire anyone s/he wants so long as they meet the minimum qualification, but that requirement is mostly honored in the breach. The real qualification unless a professional credential is required is “knows the commissioner.” PX employees have to have a Class Specification and meet minimum qualifications and have to be paid from the State Pay Plan. They’re about as close to “at will” as the State has since they cannot administratively appeal discipline or dismissal. They can, however, sue for wrongful discharge, and some have successfully. The problem, especially in Law is that some of the attorneys are just researchers and memo writers and have no role advising policy makers, so dismissing one makes the State vulnerable. The general rule is any reason, no reason, but not a false or illegal reason; if you give a reason, you’d best be able to back it up or some judge is going to decide you shouldn’t have fired that selfless public servant.

        And therein lies the real beef: though the AKSC has referred to some State employees as “at will,” the courts don’t really believe it. The AKSC has determined that there is an “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” in any employment contract, and it doesn’t take much to make an employment relationship contractual. So, the essence of it is that “at will” means what a judge says it does.

        I know this is too long, but as with most things with the State, and answer depends on how the question is asked, and the most common answer is, it depends.

  • The spreadsheet was hard to navigate on my cheap smartphone, so I’ll take a closer look later. I recently met an African immigrant who told me he came here from Juneau. I asked him if he had met someone there who had emigrated from another African country, a person I met in a rickety mobile home out on the Loop Road nearly 30 years ago. Lo and behold, I see that person’s name on the list and he’s pulling down $70K+ per year as a gift shop cashier. I don’t want to disparage the fellow, so I’ll instead ask what the ceiling tends to be for gift shop cashiers in the private sector. Reminds me of a recent job search. I came across a posting for an office position at UAF paying $26 an hour. You’d be lucky if you were paid more than $15 an hour for this same job in the private sector. At least that provided an easy answer as to why tuition is so high.

    • The Alaska Policy Forum post did not use the term “at will”, Art.

  • The Gift Shop Cashier is a vessel employee of the AMHS; their wages are only relevant to other publicly owned Jones Act shippers. One day the unions and State politicians will figure out that there is an ever-dwindling percentage of the Alaska population that gives a damn about the AMHS.

    As a general matter, the State pays too much for low-level jobs, about right for most mid-level jobs, and too little for many upper-level jobs. The State used to be statutorily obligated to conduct salary surveys to assure that it paid competitively and no more. It never did it very effectively, especially after full collective bargaining began in ’72, and stopped doing it altogether during the lean years after the mid-’80s price crash. ASEA sued the State trying to force it to do surveys and the State’s response was to repeal the statutory requirement. So, basically, State employees get paid what their unions can get the State to pay and non-represented employees say “me too.” Out in the quasi-governmentals and exempt agencies, wages and salaries are usually set by appointed boards and Executive Directors who know how to keep their Board happy knock down some pretty fancy money.

  • This list shows the true wage disparity between the public and private earners. Sickening! And the public earner’s are always the first to complain about everything.
    Here is proof that there really are two Alaskas. Little wonder about the great political divide in our state.

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