Home Politics Assembly Beat: Anchorage Anchorage Assembly Faces Last Chance to Avoid Labor Law Referendum

Anchorage Assembly Faces Last Chance to Avoid Labor Law Referendum

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Photo courtesy of Repeal 37 facebook page, used with permission.
Photo courtesy of Repeal 37 facebook page, used with permission.

The Anchorage Assembly will consider two labor proposals at its August 5 meeting, one to repeal Ordinance 37 outright and another to amend it.

Ordinance 2013-37 (AO 37) is a radical rewrite of previous Anchorage labor law, introduced at the behest of Mayor Dan Sullivan, that tilted collective bargaining power toward the administration. Its passage generated a backlash at the polls and contributed to the election of an assembly less inclined to do the bidding of the mayor.

Anchorage citizens, including many union members, collected nearly four times the number of signatures necessary to subject AO 37 to a referendum. The municipality argued in court that the ordinance was administrative and not subject to referendum. It lost that fight. Then, after much political maneuvering, the referendum was scheduled concurrent to the state general election this coming November.

As Alaska Commons documented, Assemblywoman Jennifer Johnston introduced a draft ordinance at an ad hoc Labor Subcommittee meeting in May. Her goal was to orchestrate a compromise between the municipality’s interests and the interests of municipal unions while avoiding the costs of a November referendum, which the municipal clerk’s office said could be as high as $436,000.

The state has since offered to place the referendum on the state ballot, saving the municipality the cost of printing separate ballots.

The Labor Subcommittee discussed the most recent version of Johnston’s ordinance, AO 2014-80, at its meeting on Friday. There are few dramatic changes from Johnston’s original draft, which was called “AO 37 lite” by some union supporters. Most of the big ticket items, like restoring the rights to strike and binding arbitration, were in that draft and are retained in the “S” version of the ordinance.

One change from the version of the ordinance introduced to the assembly in June is an amendment that gives a little more flexibility on the subject of management rights. Both AO 37 and Johnston’s original draft made a list of management rights, such as “reliev[ing the municipal] employee from duty because of lack of work or for other legitimate reasons,” beyond the scope of collective bargaining. Under the current version, these rights could be bargained with the agreement of the municipality and assembly.

Management’s exclusive right to schedule employees is removed under one bullet, but appears to be moved to another including staffing and equipment.

Assemblywoman Amy Demboski expressed concern that even with the amendments the municipality may still have the right to curtail day-by-day staffing for police and fire that could jeopardize public safety. Assembly Counsel Julia Tucker said it was a gray area. Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler agreed that the word “exclusive” was subject to some debate.

Johnston also added language that is intended not to automatically move some municipal employees that deal with timekeeping from bargaining units to management, as AO 37 did.

However, Gerard Asselin, president of the Anchorage Coalition of Unions, expressed concerns about removing IT workers from bargaining units. The Anchorage Police Department has six of these workers, he said, who have to have a connection to the police department by federal statute.

A key amendment in the new version of the ordinance is the restoration of past practice as a consideration of an arbitrator. This means that an independent arbitrator may consider the behavior of management outside the language of an collective bargaining agreement (e.g., allowance of an unspecified break).

The “S” version also corrects a flaw in Johnston’s original draft that would have required both bargaining and mediation to begin at least 120 days prior to the expiration of a contract. Under the new version, the municipality and the unions have at least 30 days of bargaining before they are required to share the cost of mediation.

Will Aitchison, an attorney for the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, described the new ordinance as progress but that what he perceived as language conflict left unions without confidence in the meaning of the management rights clause. Returning to previous code would solve this problem, he suggested.

Tucker says that the assembly must pass the repeal of AO 37 (AO 2014-74), sponsored by Vice-Chair Dick Traini, Assemblywoman Elvi Gray-Jackson, and Assemblyman Pete Petersen, in order to avoid the November referendum. Johnston’s draft ordinance originally included both repeal and revision of AO 37, but Assembly Chair Patrick Flynn asked Johnston not to include repeal in her ordinance at the recommendation of the municipal clerk.

Currently, a vote is scheduled on Johnston’s ordinance prior to a vote on the repeal of AO 37. Flynn explained that he wanted to make those assembly members who were uncomfortable with repeal feel more secure in that vote, assuming Johnston’s ordinance would already have been passed as a replacement.

A clerk’s note on the assembly meeting agenda indicates public testimony on repeal and Johnston’s ordinance may be combined, dependent upon the will of the assembly. That testimony would not begin before 6:00 PM, but parking at Loussac Library may be difficult if as many people choose to testify as they did when AO 37 was introduced last year. The assembly meeting will begin at 5:00 PM.

The Alaska AFL-CIO is encouraging attendance on its webpage, as well as the “Repeal 37” Facebook page.

Johnston said on Friday that if there is a public “filibuster” at Tuesday’s meeting or if her ordinance does not have eight or more votes to override a potential mayoral veto, then she would postpone the ordinance indefinitely.

Vetoing either the repeal or Johnston’s revision would entail serious risk for Sullivan, who as a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor would be on the ballot with the labor law for which he is largely responsible. Yet he has publicly stated that it is necessary as a candidate to appeal to his political base. There is strong anti-union sentiment among many Republicans.

Assemblyman Bill Evans, chair of the subcommittee, advised that, regardless of what happens Tuesday, the assembly must advise the state by August 18 whether or not the municipality needs the referendum on the state ballot.