Mayor Meets With Assembly on Contentious Labor Ordinance
ANCHORAGE - For the first time since the mayor introduced the proposal to overhaul the city's labor laws, the Anchorage Assembly heard from Mayor Dan Sullivan himself. But most of his answers came through a city attorney.
A work session was held Friday as the mayor met with the Assembly for the first time to discuss his ordinance since the mayor proposed it last Friday. Sullivan has been in Juneau for meetings with the Alaska Municipal League since Monday.
While each assembly member was given an opportunity to ask questions about the ordinance, many told the mayor’s office during the meeting that they would also be submitting more detailed questions in writing.
One answer they did get was about the fate of emergency medical services, or EMS. At the start of the meeting today, the mayor made clear that some sort of revision to the proposed ordinance would be forthcoming that would protect EMS from “managed competition,” a term in the ordinance that essentially opens municipal jobs to private contractors.
“When you look at the type of services that governments provide, the critical need, the infrastructure if you will, something as important as EMS, we really shouldn't be looking to outsource that work,” said Rod Harris, president of the Anchorage Fire Fighters Union, after the meeting today. “You lose control over it in terms of long term and the quality of care.”
Other concerns raised by the assembly had to do with how the new ordinance would reconcile the need to “grandfather” certain pay practices into the new system while also explicitly forbidding “past practices” from influencing decisions going forward.
“We've had high-priced attorneys, we've had smart attorneys, we've had smart negotiators, we've had people who are very well respected in the industry, we've had a lot of other people [working on this]” said Assistant Municipal Attorney Will Earnhart. “[And] we've still got this mess.”
Past practice can influence everything from pay rates and benefits to arbitration in contract disputes, and Earnhart said it has to be done away with. “Past practice is what the arbitrator can't find in the contract but wants to make happen, and we're trying, at least trying, to narrow that down a little bit.”
Part of the overhaul in the mayor’s ordinance involves “impasse resolution,” or the process through which the unions and the city negotiate a stalemate. Currently the municipal code calls for an impartial third-party arbiter, but the mayor’s proposal would make each side of the negotiation submit a “last best offer” to the Anchorage Assembly. The body would then decide which offer to implement.
In addition to not knowing exactly how that decision process would work—Assemblyman Bill Starr said he wasn’t sure what would constitute a “last best offer” if multiple issues were unable to be agreed upon—Assemblyman Adam Trombley asked if the assembly’s decisions in this matter would be subject to mayorial veto.
“Let's say a contract passes [with a vote of] 6 to 5... Does the mayor have the ability to veto that action?” Trombley asked. “Or are labor contracts outside that veto?” Trombley and other assembly members asked for a legal opinion on the matter.
After the meeting, as assembly members answered questions one-on-one with their constituents, the mayor left the room. And despite not having an official opportunity to comment, some of the union heads present said the meeting was a step forward.
“I was encouraged by the fact that, not only were they able to answer some questions in there today but, it looks like this whole process is being slowed down now,” Harris said.
“It’s encouraging to see now only are we making headway and getting some questions answered, but now we're also making headway in also getting this process slowed down a bit so that everyone can really make an educated vote.”
The assembly will meet with union members next Wednesday, February 20, for their own question and answer session. And Assembly Chair Ernie Hall said that the assembly would “likely” have a special meeting on February 27, to ensure the regular meeting the day before is unaffected by the many union workers who have pledged to give public comment on the ordinance. Hall said the assembly was considering using the Wilda Marston Theatre as a venue for the large crowed that is anticipated.