Anchorage Assembly Narrowly Passes Labor Ordinance

Only one amendment was passed for AO37. It states, “No municipal employee will suffer a loss of base pay or benefits as a result of changes to this chapter.”

Union supporters watch as the Assembly deliberates passing Mayor Dan Sullivan's controversial labor ordiance.The Anchorage Assembly passed a rewrite of municipal labor law by a vote of 6-5 at their regular meeting Tuesday night.

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Early in the meeting, Assembly Member Paul Honeman introduced a resolution that could have postponed action on the controversial rewrite of Anchorage municipal labor law until October.

“I just, I can’t implore each of you on this body strongly enough to fully get behind taking the time and making sure we make the changes – I’m not opposed to making changes to 3.70, I’m not. So I would urge approval,” Honeman said.

Honeman’s resolution was shot down 6-5. When Assembly Chair Ernie Hall moved to take action on the ordinance, Honeman  moved to override the chair. That motion failed 7-4, with Assembly members Dick Traini, Elvi Gray-Jackson and Patrick Flynn as Honeman’s only supporters.  Honeman then moved to postpone the ordinance indefinitely. That motion also failed 7-4. The ordinance was announced on Feb. 8 by Mayor Dan Sullivan. It will limit union longevity and performance pay, benefits, and eliminate binding arbitration along with strikes. It will also allow some municipal jobs to be contracted out. Chairman Hall ended the public hearing on the ordinance after listening to four five-hour evenings of public testimony from 285 people. Before the vote Assembly member Patrick Flynn told his colleagues that they had failed.

“We have a larger responsibility, not just to the people we represent, although that’s the most important one, but also to the integrity of this body, this Assembly, as an institution, and we have failed badly. The decision to close public testimony has irrevocably harmed our public process,” Flynn said.

Assembly members attempted to pass some amendments. Assembly member Honeman introduced an amendment that would protect base-pay. During deliberation Mayor Dan Sullivan chimed in arguing against that.

“You don’t want to put in an ordinance that you’re never going to change a wage rate. It could change, in exchange for something else. And it could be to the employees benefit. So anyway, that’s why I think it’s very, very dangerous to put specifically in code that you’ll never change a base rate because that’s what negotiation is about,” Sullivan said.

Honeman’s amendment was the sole amendment passed. Assembly members Traini and Gray-Jackson warned that the ordinance would bring lawsuits upon the Municipality because it was poorly written. Gray-Jackson asked her colleagues to remember what they heard from citizens during public testimony on the ordinance.

“Much of the testimony was simply asking the Assembly to take a deep breath and don’t rush the ordinance just to get it done before the election. If we put this on hold, we can avoid costly litigation, work with the unions, with the public and produce a document that makes changes to the code but with consensus from all parties,” Gray-Jackson said.

The ordinance passed 6-5, with Assembly Members Honeman, Traini, Gray-Jackson, Flynn and Debbie Ossiander the no votes. Chair Hall, Cheryl Frasca, Jennifer Johnston, Adam Trombley and Bill Starr voted for the ordinance. Cheryl Frasca, Jennifer Johnston, Ernie Hall, Chris Birch, Bill Starr and Adam Trombley in favor of the ordinance. Jillanne Inglis is Vice President of the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association. She says the ordinance was too rushed.

“We’re feeling really disheartened. We’re really upset about it. The process was way too fast,” Inglis said.

Sergeant Gerard Asselin, who represents the Anchorage Police Department Employee Association said he was also disappointed.

“The Mayor said from day one, he had the votes. We tried. We did everything we could. We tried providing facts, we tried providing information, we tried providing evidence – and they, frankly, just didn’t want to hear it,” Asselin said.

Collective bargaining agreements will be negotiated under the new law as old agreements expire. The first union negotiations under the new law are set to begin in the coming weeks. The Sullivan administration has 180 days to present a managed competition program to the Assembly for approval.

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.

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