Labor Slams Ordinance at Work Session, Public Testimony Next

Assembly members and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan heard criticism of the Mayor's proposed labor union ordinance at a work session held Wednesday at City Hall. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage.
Assembly members and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan heard criticism of the Mayor’s proposed labor union ordinance at a work session held Wednesday at City Hall. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Attorneys representing labor unions made a presentation to members of the Anchorage Assembly at a work session at city hall Wednesday (3/20). They outlined their concerns about an ordinance to limit unions that was recently proposed by Mayor Dan Sullivan. The Mayor also launched a media campaign supporting his proposal. KSKA’s Daysha Eaton has the story.
As you flip through the radio dial you may hear a new radio ad by Mayor Dan Sullivan.

Ordinance 37, was proposed less than two weeks ago.The Anchorage Assembly is now reviewing it. The ordinance would impact approximately 22-hundred municipal employees from accountants to police officers and fire fighters. It limits pay, benefits and mediation, and eliminates the option of a strike. But it’s centerpiece is the introduction of managed competition, a process in which a public agency competes with private firms to provide public services. The Mayor says fire and police departments as well as emergency services would be exempt. The competition in other departments though, he says, would save the municipality money and make public employees more efficient. Attorney’s representing unions disagree. They say the wording of the ordinance is too vague, and gives the Mayor’s office too much power. Justin Roberts is the General counsel for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1547 (IBEW).

“It has conflicting terms throughout, it suffers from basic lack of definitions, it removes power from the assembly. It gives virtually unchecked power to the employee relations board to interpret the terms of this ordinance.”

Roberts says members of the employee relations board are appointed by the Mayor so the set-up is political and problematic. He and the other two attorneys representing unions were especially concerned about the lack of a clear definition for managed competition. Assembly member Jennifer Johnston admits that the definition needs sharpening. She says she’s been advocating for managed competition since she was elected nearly six years ago. This is how she attempted to explain it.

“You are saying to the service center, the public sector service center that has the employee in it, how much would it cost for you to do this. This is what it costs outside your unit, how much is it going to cost. This brings the employee and the management together to form a team to say we can do it better.”

Johnston says she plans to introduce an amendment with a clearer definition for ‘managed competition’ soon. Assembly member Paul Honeman says he’s doubtful that managed competition is the way to go, but he says the bottom line is that the process needs to slow down.

“I think we’re moving way to fast in what I call a major revision of this code. And I would like to see it postponed for a long period. We’ve got some major issues before us.”

Honeman says there’s no need to push to get the new law in place before union negotiations begin at the end of March or beginning of April, as the Mayor wants. Honeman says the negotiations can always be extended. Several Assembly members expressed concern that the ordinance could make the assembly responsible for the ultimate decision on which contracts to got with. Although Assembly Chair Ernie Hall helped introduce the Mayor’s proposed ordinance, he also has concerns.

“It could be very political, handling that. And what we’re doing is really trying to put thought into this into the future and you’re not worried about who’s in charge.”

As the proposed ordinance stands, the Mayor’s office would gain significant power over how labor is managed. Hall says he anticipates an amendment addressing that issue. Public testimony on Ordinance 37 begins Wednesday, February 27th at the Loussac Library Assembly Chambers at 6 o’clock. The Wilda Marston Theater will also be open to accommodate the expected crowd, with video from inside the assembly chambers.

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Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.