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Independent Al Gross Takes On Pension Reform

Independent U.S. Senate candidate Al Gross is setting up his statewide campaign headquarters in Fairbanks. He kicked off his campaign here last week with an announcement at a union hall. Gross is running against U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan. On Thursday and over the weekend, he launched his campaign here with a proposal to fix pension plans still recovering from the Great Recession of 2008.

At the office of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, Al Gross announced his plan to solve the crisis with union pension plans. He says workers and retirees should not have to pay for a crisis they did not create.

“In Alaska, one in four workers are organized labor. And some of the organized labor in Alaska have pensions plans that are at risk for default. And in my first term as a U.S. Senator, some of them will default if we don’t take action.”

He handed out a 10-page plan, complete with careful citations, outlining small changes to law as well as a bailout for Multi-Employer Pension Plans, or MEPPs.

The Painters and Allied Trades Union is endorsing Gross for U.S. Senate. Business Agent Bronson Frye says it is partially because Gross has made pension reform a platform issue in his campaign.

“Wall Street has been bailed out. There have been certain other industries, the auto industry, etc, that have been bailed out successfully by the federal government. Yet workin’ folks, and the small businesses that are actually financially tied to the health of these plans, have been left out to dry.”

Gross says he disagrees with those who think it is unfair or an overreach of government to help pension plans. He says one of the fundamentals of organized labor is being able to retire after a career of hard labor.

“I completely disagree, I think it is very feasible. We have an obligation to our nation’s workers who’ve paid in to their plan, fully expecting to get a pension back, who are about to lose everything they’ve put in to their retirement. And that’s not fair.”  

Gross left his orthopedic practice in 2013 and returned to school for a Master’s Degree in Public Health. He worked part-time in Petersburg and took a leave of absence last year to run his senate campaign. He says having his campaign headquarters in Fairbanks symbolizes the state-wide nature of the outreach he plans to make.

“I went to medical school through the WAMI program in 1985 and had one of the best years of my ilfe up here. I really do believe that Fairbanks is the heart and the soul of the state.”

Gross was born in Juneau and practiced medicine in Petersburg. He grew up commercial fishing and is the son of Avram Gross, who was Governor Jay Hammond’s Attorney General.

Gross is not registered in a political party but has been endorsed by the Alaska Democratic Party, and will likely run in that party’s primary, which is open to non-Democrats who are nonpartisan.

If he wins that primary election, his name will be on the General Election ballot under “Democrat.”