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Anchorage Assembly hears more on labor law vote

By KTVA CBS 11 News 4:55 PM October 10, 2013

Assembly/voters divided on election timing

ANCHORAGE – Gerrymandering, mudslinging, backstabbing — those were some of the words brought up at Wednesday’s Anchorage Assembly public hearing. The assembly ran into overtime on Tuesday night, so they suspended the hearing to listen to more testimony on AO-37.

First, the back story of the controversial labor law:

AO-37 came before the assembly this spring. The mayor and supporters of the measure claimed the measure streamlined labor in the municipality. City unions countered it inhibited their rights to negotiate. City unions like firefighters’ unions and police officers’ unions fought the decision. The Assembly heard dozens of hours of testimony. Despite a strong showing from city workers at Anchorage Assembly meetings, the body voted to pass AO-37 this spring.

City unions decided to try to put the issue to the voters. They put out a petition to get a referendum on the ballot. The petition gathered more than enough signatures. Wednesday night, Anchorage Assembly members heard comments on whether that measure should come sooner or later.

Those who support AO-37 said it’s best delayed until the general election in 2014. Assembly member Jennifer Johnston said, “It’s just to get as many voters as possible.”

Those opposed said setting the date to a general election is political strategy. In an interview last month Dick Traini theorized in a general election, more Republicans vote. He said the GOP will likely vote against the unions. That’s where all those dirty names come in. During public testimony, Cameron Hokenson quoted things he’d heard people say at the last meeting — “Yesterday people used terms like gerrymandering, mudslinging, backstabbing, dark-of-night-decisions, back-door meetings, many other unflattering things to describe how the whole process has played out”

“I think that’s mainly a delaying tactic,” said Cornelius Eastman. He doesn’t work for the city, but opposes AO-37. As a union worker, he wanted to support city workers who feel this ordinance infringes on their right to collectively bargain.

Linda Kellen Biegel doesn’t work for the city either. She’s also opposed to AO-37. She said the proponents don’t have a good reputation. “This administrative body can’t afford another incident where the perception of shenanigans is once again on display,” she said during public testimony.

Assembly member Jennifer Johnston said it’s not about shenanigans, it’s just an important issue that is better addressed by more Anchorage voters. She cited local turnout in most city elections. “With that low margin … you would question really how the people felt, so I would rather have it in the general election with a high voter turnout,” she said, “and you can get an idea. You can have a discussion and find out how they feel about it.”

On Wednesday, a lot of the testimony was from city employees and union representatives who wanted an earlier election.

Richard Braun wasn’t part of that group. He told the assembly the unions seemed too powerful. “Our city is supposed to be run by elected officials,” he said, “and I get a feeling in listening to the original argument that the unions think they can set the rules. I object to that.”

The assembly got an earful, but they won’t be voting on the measure this week. Its suspended a decision until later in October.

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