Merit Shops and Free Enterprise
A Q&A with ABC Alaska President and CEO Alicia Maltby
By Tasha Anderson

licia Maltby took on the role of President and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Alaska in November 2021. Before taking on the position, she had “zero construction experience.” But, as she told interviewers during her application process, “I don’t really need to know how to run a construction project. I need to know how to advocate for you, and I’m very good at that… I don’t like to lose.” In the following Q&A, Maltby provides her insights into advocating for Alaska’s contractors.

headshot of alicia maltby

Alicia Maltby
ABC Alaska

Tasha Anderson: What is some of your experience with advocacy?

Alicia Maltby: I started my career in hotels… and before I came here [to ABC Alaska] I worked for Alaska Hotel and Lodging Association… As far as associations [in general], I fell into it. I really like the advocacy component, and I think it’s so important to fight for businesses to be able to run their business the way they want to, without having too much government overreach. That is such a premise of ABC’s mission and vision, that open merit shop philosophy and free enterprise.

Anderson: Who else works with you at the ABC Alaska office?

Maltby: We have a director of apprenticeship, and she has an apprenticeship coordinator. We had a part-time admin that went between the chapter and the training trust when I first started; we’ve now extended that to a full-time position. He does a lot of our event coordination, and then he assists with the Trust.

Anderson: I’m not familiar with ABC Alaska’s trust, can you tell me a little more about that?

Maltby: The chapter was established right around 1998/1999. Watterson Construction, Klebs Mechanical, Aurora Electric, and Wilson Financial were the four incorporators of the organization. We became a federally recognized program that same year and received our final 501(c)3 designation in 2012.

The [ABC Alaska] chapter is a 501(c)(6), because we do advocacy. The 501(c)(3) trust allows for the organization to focus its interests specifically on training, education, and workforce development.

Today we have about 300 apprentices that fall in our apprenticeship program that is run by the training trust. In the first years, the chapter had to fund some of that, but now it’s standing on its own with its own budget and set of trustees, but it’s all under the ABC umbrella.

We operate under Federal Department of Labor guidelines and standards, and we use NCCER [National Center for Construction Education and Research] curriculum for related instruction. Because NCCER is nationally recognized, it benefits workers who potentially move in or out of the state.

Anderson: That’s a great asset for workers who want the flexibility to work here or elsewhere, though obviously the preference is for them to stay here.

Maltby: We want them to stay here, absolutely. Alaska needs a workforce. Every industry needs a workforce. It doesn’t matter if you’re choosing our program or somebody else’s—as long as you choose a program.

Greg Roads of Samson Electric (left) and Alicia Maltby as Roads receives a safety award at ABC Alaska’s Annual Dinner, October 2022.

ABC Alaska

ABC Alaska’s Annual Dinner, held in October 2022.

ABC Alaska

Anderson: You’ve mentioned events that ABC Alaska puts on. What are some of the events that you do?

Maltby: Last year we only had our golf tournament and our annual dinner, and we did a small membership Christmas social. This year we’re hosting Beer and Bites, which is like a membership drive, where we let [current members] bring potential members for free. We’ll do our clay shoot this year, and our golf tournament will be back. We’re hoping to throw in a few apprentice events this year… Apprentices are the future of this organization. We’ve seen a quite a few come back and start their own businesses. And they wanted to be a member so that they could hire apprentices and start training. We want to nurture that relationship with them and offer events that might just be apprentice specific, because it’s not always comfortable to be in the room with your bosses.

Anderson: Other than advocacy, what are some of your goals and priorities on behalf of your members?

Maltby: This year we’re really looking at workforce development. How can we continue to collaborate? It’s not just about one program versus the other. We always like to say we’re not anti-union, we just think everybody needs to have a choice on which direction they take their business or their apprenticeship program. There’s room for all of us in the market, because if the ultimate goal at the end of the day is workforce development, we should all work together to make that happen, right? Obviously, project labor agreements are huge, making sure that those are not government mandated. If somebody wants to put a project labor agreement on their project, they have the right and free will to do that. We just don’t want the local, state, or federal government to be predicating who we choose to do business with and who our contractors or subcontractors choose to do business with. Alaska is so much about relationships and who you trust, and for the guys who’ve been in business for forty years, they don’t want anybody telling them who they can and can’t work with. So those are our main goals: keeping that open merit shop, making sure those jobs are being awarded based on safety, cost and the quality of the work.

Anderson: Other than workforce issues, which you’ve mentioned, what are the biggest challenges you see facing the construction industry in Alaska?

Maltby: I think it’s the same issues that everybody is seeing. Energy costs are still going up. Fuel costs are expensive. The cost of doing business has gone up, and supply chain issues haven’t been completely fixed yet—getting products here in a timely fashion because we’re so backlogged from COVID. All of our challenges are the same, it doesn’t matter which industry you’re in.

Anderson: In theory, there’s a lot of potential projects in Alaska’s near future stemming from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. What’s your take on that?

Maltby: That’s a tough question for us because we come from the open shop, free enterprise perspective. Yes, there’s going to be a nice influx of federal money, but on the same token, you now have the administration that’s putting federally mandated project labor agreements on federal projects. So if that goes through—and it will be the most strict policy, probably since Clinton—you’d see a lot of general contractors not bidding that work because they would have to be signatory to do the work. So as much as you want to see money come in, we also want all construction companies in the state to be able to bid. Yes, on the surface, it looks great. We’re going to have this influx of projects. But the project labor agreement, the way it’s written, would not allow for a lot of our contractors to bid. ABC national did surveys and 83 percent of private sector construction is now non-union in this country. Alaska sits right at 74.6 percent. So when you look at the big picture, some of these government mandates would take out 75 percent of the people who would be qualified or able to work on those jobs if they stay in their current position. This is a repetitive story for Alaska, because it’s a look at how federal policy doesn’t necessarily match what’s actually happening on the ground. It’s a high view, when in reality that high view is just a little bit off base. The construction industry in Alaska is robust and it is highly skilled. So how do we approach making sure that [businesses] can do their jobs? ABC members don’t want a handout. They don’t want a free pass; they just want a vertical playing field. If infrastructure projects are coming, and there’s going to be an influx of money and work to be done, they just want a seat at the table to bid those projects directly and continue to build their business and contribute to infrastructure in Alaska. It’s why they built their businesses to begin with.

Anderson: Is there any particular type of infrastructure or specific project that you think would benefit Alaska?

Maltby: I don’t think there’s any bad infrastructure if it’s going to bring good jobs and health and safety to Alaskans. I don’t care if it’s through mining, oil and gas, or construction. Across the board, put Alaskans to work, give them steady, stable employment so that they’re not looking for the next best thing and not wanting to leave. Alaskans want to continue to raise their families here, but with the assurance that there’s enough work to make that happen for the future, right? You have to be able to raise a family here. It’s not cheap to be in this state.

I’m a lifelong Alaskan. I grew up here. I went out of state to go to college. Coming back and raising my children here was a choice.

If more people could collaborate and come together and say, what’s the best for Alaska, then we would all be in a much better place. That probably sounds a little like rainbows and lollipops. But when it comes to infrastructure, we need to look at what’s best for the people of the state, and not what’s best for padding the pockets of politicians or appeasing Outside interest groups.

We support anything that allows everybody to be at the same table fighting for the same work that is being given to people based on their experience, the quality of work, and the price.