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January 29, 2007 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Anchorage Folly

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Ask who public enemy No. 1 is these days in Anchorage and it's the U.S. Department of Labor and Troy Ward.

You can throw the name Frank Bretti into that mix, too, and whoever the three other people are that applied for the job of current Alaska-Anchorage head coach Dave Shyiak.

You see, the Canadian-born Shyiak's working visa is expiring, and he has to apply for permanent residency (i.e. a "green card"). To do that, however, the university has to prove there are no American candidates willing, able and qualified for his job. And to do that, they needed to advertise for Shyiak's position.

The school, and Shyiak, hoped that no one would apply. Five did, and the Anchorage Daily News has so far learned two of the names — former Wisconsin top assistant Troy Ward, who is currently working as a color analyst for CSTV; and former Iona head coach and RPI and UAA assistant, Frank Bretti. The ADN has a freedom of information request in for the other names.

This means UAA athletic director Steve Cobb is required to interview all potentially "qualified" applicants. He must prove to the Department of Labor why they do not meet the requirements of the position.

Fans in Anchorage have been in an uproar, and have made it perfectly clear to Bretti and Ward they would not be welcome. And Ward is fully aware of the ramifications.

"It's like crossing a picket line," Ward said. "I don't think anybody in the lower 48 knows the whole gamut of what's going on, what will go on, and how things work out."

Ward said he was contacted by UAA people.

"There's enough people that likes what Shyiak is doing that called me and said, 'We're alumni of the program, but if this guy doesn't get it because of a government stipulation — you're not working, we'd love you to have the job,'" Ward said. "From the fan's perspective, they'll get just the opposite: 'Why are they going for his job?' But some people they've cheered on for years, asked me to look into the position.

"The second reason is ... I love to coach. Now, do I like the premise it's on? No. It's a red flag. I publicly said (the UAA staff is) doing a great job. But at some time, if they'll have to make a change, as me for a father of two kids to put through college, it's an opportunity to work.

"It's real uncomfortable situation. I have to deal with it honestly and straightforward."

What perhaps those who encouraged Ward to apply don't understand is that, the problem would not exist if no one applied. Maybe a chicken-egg scenario, but in this case, it's clear which came first. Had no one applied, Shyiak's job would not be in danger, and there would be nothing for anyone to worry about — and thus no need for Ward to apply.

Ultimately, though, it seems Ward does understand that as well.

"Applying and accepting are two different things," Ward said. "A lot of things have to come together. ... Everyone says good things are happening in their program. But for their people to come forward and say it's yours Troy, out of the blue , I don't expect that to happen."

Ward seemed to indicate this is more about the future.

"Dave Shyiak got that job in less than 48 hours," Ward said. "Why? Because he made a huge impression on them the time before when they hired John Hill.

"I even called (WCHA commissioner) Bruce McLeod and told him the same thing. I said I'll apply, and I want you to know why. I don't want to take his job. ... There's a lot to do before you go to the dance. A lot of things have to be right. When it gets down to it ... (if) I don't take the job, that means he can keep the job."

Shyiak has decided to say little about the subject.

"It's a personal matter," Shyiak said. "I'd rather not comment on it."

When it was suggested that people in the tight-knit hockey world must know the situation and were pulling for him, he said, "Not everybody."

Tangled Web

Shyiak is currently working in the U.S. on an H1-B visa, a nonimmigrant visa classification reserved for "professional, speciality occupations."

He was able to work under that for six years, through his time as an assistant at Northern Michigan. But it's not permanent. Under Department of Labor rules, the school had to place ads in at least four locations looking for applicants. The DOL wants employers to show that by hiring an alien, it is not jeopardizing the wages and working conditions of capable American workers.

The school stopped accepting applications last week, and turned them over to the school's human resources department. Cobb must go through an interview process now.

According to Scott Bettridge — an immigration attorney at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP, a Manhattan-based firm that specializes only in immigration and handles among other clients, sports teams — assuming UAA covered its bases, it's unlikely Shyiak will ultimately lose his job. The whole thing, he says, is pretty much a game at this point.

"I'm sure UAA doesn't feel as if it has an 'open' coaching position. However, given the temporary nature of his visa, the law requires this process be undertaken before he can fill the position permanently. It's an eye-opening and challenging process," Bettridge said.

"A lot of it goes into how (the recruitment efforts) were drafted, which is why an attorney would get involved. You must outline the employers actual minimum requirements for the job. If that's a bachelor's degree and no experience, you may wind up with 50 qualified applicants. On the other hand, if it's a need to speak four languages, you're describing a position that's likely abnormal to the industry. So a lot is dependent on how it's drafted."

The school, Bettridge said, could not tailor the ad so that the job description essentially only works for Shyiak. But if Cobb does have to interview people, he will then need a good reason not to hire them.

"You can interview these people and not like their style, their attitude. But you have to have business justified reasons (for rejecting them)," Bettridge said. "Again, it all comes down to the employers' requirements and the drafting of the ad. They may be in a tough spot already, who knows."

Possibly in Shyiak's favor is a new set of DOL regulations passed two years ago, designed to make the process more timely because of huge backlogs at the DOL.

"Under the old rules there was more exposure, because the Department of Labor received resumes directly and forwarded them on to the employer themselves," Bettridge said. "But under the new 'PERM' rules, it's an employer attestation application. They conduct all required recruitment up front, and then file an application stating that no qualified, willing and able candidates have been identified. The DOL doesn't get the resumes, although they could ask and 'audit' the filing."

There is also an O-1 visa option, designed for those who have extraordinary ability in their field and who have risen to the top of their profession. For those strong candidates, the labor certification process can be by-passed.

"Maybe he developed an innovative training style. Was he ever coach of the year? Did he ever have guys that played for him that got D-I scholarships," Bettridge said. "You build someone's track record, a 'This
is Your Life' if you will.

"That's what my job is. You strategize.

"If you can prove extraordinary ability, you may qualify for permanent residence, a green card, without having to test the labor market. The whole labor process is somewhat archaic. It's based on rules written long ago while the labor market is changing constantly. It is in place to protect the U.S. labor market but it's best suited for 'shortage' occupations or those large employers with supernumerary openings. The boom silicon valley days of enduring the process looking for computer professionals. They always had many positions open. It an entirely different challenge for a one-off situation."

Up Next

Cobb has said he will take some time to review the applications, and then decide who will be interviewed.

Once that's done, UAA would, assuming the applicants are not qualified, send the permanent labor certification application to the DOL, stating the reasons why the other applicants were not qualified.

From there, it's about a 30- to 60-day turnaround. If it's approved, it goes to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which currently has backlogs for professionals, which means it could still be a few years before Shyiak has a green card in hand.

If the Labor Department decides at least one of the five outside applicants is qualified to fill the job, and the case is denied, Shyiak may be forced to leave the United States for at least one year before being able to return to the U.S. in H-1B visa status again. If no other visa options exist, UAA, it's student-athletes and its fans will be without its coach.

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