Jim Sampson


As he resigned the presidency of Alaska’s largest union organization in 2007, Jim Sampson said he was retiring to spend time at his riverside cabin and with his grandchildren.

Issues of the day soon lured him back into public service, though.

Shortly after retiring from Alaska’s AFL-CIO, Sampson reappeared in news reports as director of the Fairbanks Pipeline Training Center. He helped create the center to prepare Alaskans for work on the expected natural gas pipeline from the North Slope.

The director’s position, from which he retired in 2015, capped Sampson’s long career as a labor advocate in Alaska.

Sampson arrived in the state as a young boy in 1952. After earning an associate degree in police administration from UAF in 1973, he began working with the Laborers Local 942. His success in union work eventually led Gov. Steve Cowper to name him commissioner of labor in 1986.

Returning to Fairbanks after four years in the Cowper administration, Sampson was elected mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough twice. 

In the late 1990s, after Sampson left the mayor’s office, Gov. Tony Knowles named him to the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board. He served until 2002, including as board chair for his last two years.

Sampson took over presidency of the AFL-CIO in 2003 as a temporary job but ended up staying through February 2007.

“I’m going to retire and enjoy life,” he said after leaving the union position. “I’ve got four grandkids, all under the age of 4 years old. I expect I’ll be busy, but not as engaged in big public policy issues. It’s time to let others do that.”

A decade later, though, Sampson still can’t resist lending a hand where he feels it’s needed. He most recently chaired a statewide committee backing Gov. Bill Walker’s re-election.

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