Alaska’s Capital City Braces for Potential Layoffs

Of the 16,000 State of Alaska employees, more than a quarter of them work in the capital city. On their lunch break, state employees at the State Office Building talked about their tentative employment future.

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Britten Burkhouse says her office at the Department of Health and Social Services was pretty quiet after getting the email from Gov. Bill Walker about potential state layoffs.

“I think we were all just dealing with the punch. Recuperating maybe a little bit. It wasn’t a very good thing on a Monday.”

Burkhouse isn’t surprised by the email. The threat of a government shutdown and layoffs has been a possibility since the legislature recessed at the end of April, but she says it makes the situation seem more desperate. She thinks Gov. Walker is doing the best he can, but,

“It’s come to the point where maybe he’s using state employees as leverage to kind of get the Legislature to act.”

Burkhouse is a grants administrator for the department. She says she makes sure nonprofits get money to provide services for Alaskans.

“State employees do more than just show up to work every day. We actually help protect the life, health and safety of Alaskans.”

Mike Lewis has been a state worker for 15 years. He’s the lead courier in mail services. Over the years, he’s made sure Alaskans get their Permanent Fund Dividend checks. He says the potential layoffs are all part of a game.

“This is what they do. It’s government. It’s politics. I don’t like politics because of this.”

And he doesn’t think there’s anything he can do, like contacting a legislator, to change the situation.

“It’s the big people up there that make all the decisions. I don’t think they care much about the little guys.”

If he’s laid off,

“I’ll go fishing, crabbing – all the things I can do when I’m off. If it’s only a week, it wouldn’t bother me that much, but if it’s longer than that it’s the financial thing.”

Twenty-three-year-old Mackenzie Merrill just wants to have job stability. Before this email, she says she was getting other ones about positions getting cut. She’s only an economist with the Department of Revenue for only eight months. It’s her first job out of college.

“I just signed a year-long lease and I want to work here and I want to save money for my future. I went to college. This is what I signed up for. Entering the state during a severe fiscal uncertainty has been disappointing.”

Merrill has a vacation planned in July anyway, when layoffs could begin. But she’d like to know that she has a job to come back to.