First National Bank of Alaska is taking heat from a labor union.

Local 52 in Anchorage of the Alaska State Employees Association initiated a protest against First National and urged members and other unions this month to withdraw deposits.

At the heart of the controversy is a new headquarters and processing center for which the bank is about to break ground.

The union is angry that First National hired a nonunion general contractor for the $14 million project and has not agreed that all the jobs must go to union workers.

Local 52 has urged members and other unions to move their deposits to four other institutions - Key Bank of Alaska, National Bank of Alaska, Northrim Bank, and Alaska Federal Credit Union, all in Anchorage.

"The real issue up here in Alaska is that people are very sensitive to local hiring," said Chuck O'Connell, business manager for Local 52. "One way to ensure that is to use union labors.

"But First National Bank said 'no thanks.'"

Bank officials said that the union tactics have been painful, but that they stand behind their decision.

"We went through an open-bid process," said Cheri Gillian, executive vice president of First National. The winner, Watterson Construction Co., uses union as well as nonunion labor contractors, she said. "Of the 28 subcontractors signed up for the project, 13 are union and 15 are nonunion."

The union's Mr. O'Connell said union subcontractors were brought aboard because no nonunion equivalents existed.

Construction is to begin in May, once the ground thaws, and will run 12 to 18 months, according to Ms. Gillian.

She added that First National, the second-largest bank based in the state, went out of its way to ensure that Alaskan companies would be working on the project.

"We specified that we wanted Alaska-based businesses, and we in fact paid an $80,000 premium to make sure we had an Alaska-based glazier," she said.

"The bank doesn't have to build these buildings," she added. "It's a matter of pride for us. We want to keep our business in Alaska.

Ironically, she said, the banks to which the union urged that deposits be moved outsource some operations out-of-state - and one of them, Key Bank, "isn't headquartered in Alaska."

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