Anticipating a Government Shutdown, Alaska Freezes Hiring

by | May 29, 2015

By Pat Forgey

The state of Alaska is instituting a hiring freeze Friday across much of state government as a result of the Legislature's inability to approve a fully funded budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

That means layoff notices will have to go out 30 days in advance if a government shutdown resulting in widespread layoffs appears likely.

The freeze will mean no new hiring beginning Friday, said Leslie Ridle, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Administration, which oversees personnel and labor relations for state government.

"We needed to have the cutoff by May 29 because when we start laying off people ... we need to calculate layoff rights, bumping, that sort of thing, and if the target keeps moving with new personnel. It was just undoable for us," she said.

Gov. Bill Walker has approved and signed into law the budgets for agencies focused on health and safety, like the Corrections, Public Safety and Health and Social Services departments. The hiring freeze does not apply to them, Ridle said.

The freeze also does not apply to the Legislature or the Alaska Court System.

State agencies for which managers need to hire in certain special cases can be done with her department's approval, Riddle said.

The intent of the freeze is that hiring "slows down almost to a stop, but there obviously are exceptions," she said.

"Divisions still have the ability to contact our Division of Personnel on an as-needed basis if there's someone who they really just have to hire," Ridle said.

Some workers whose jobs are related to health, life and safety can also be hired in other departments, she said, such as the Department of Forestry's wildland firefighters.

The 30-day basis for notifications was because some union contracts and state policies have that as a requirement for layoff notices.

Some departments, including those likely to face budget cuts when a final budget is approved, have already limited hiring, and others were operating on different timelines.

"In anticipation of a pending lay-off, DEC is holding off making job offers as of today," wrote Eric Hotchkiss, human resources manager for the Department of Environmental Conservation in an email to department employees Thursday.

The hiring freeze was a step taken reluctantly, Ridle said, because there will be negative consequences if agencies can't hire people they'd like to hire.

"Some people might go off to another job because they don't have time to wait around for us," she said.

Most problematic are those specialized and skilled employees the state is competing for, which includes applicants from Outside, Ridle said.

State data shows Alaska typically hires 91 to 155 new permanent employees per month.

"Alaska has a great labor pool, but even with the slowdown in oil prices we have to be very competitive to get employees in a host of different job classifications," she said.

The Legislature has passed a budget with $5.4 billion in spending, but which included an anticipated deficit of nearly $3 billion. Walker vetoed spending to eliminate the deficit, saying he hoped legislators would work together to pass a funded budget for the remaining departments using savings.

Ridle said the budget deadlock and hiring freeze could have further negative impacts as well, and broadly hurt the state's ability to recruit qualified applicants.

"It could be they don't like the instability that seems to be happening in state government right now," she said.

(c)2015 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska)