Mayor, Municipal Attorneys Review Amended Ordinance with Assembly
Reinstating third-party arbitration among the changes to contentious AO-37
ANCHORAGE - The Anchorage Assembly met with Mayor Dan Sullivan Friday morning to go through amendments to AO-37, the ordinance that could dramatically re-define how the city contracts with municipal unions.
Union leaders packed a stuffy conference room at City Hall to hear the municipal attorneys go over the amended ordinance. And while nearly all seats in the audience were full, many chairs for assembly members remained empty: Bill Starr, Adam Trombley, and Chris Birch were absent, while Elvi Gray-Jackson joined briefly by phone.
Among the changes to AO-37 was a major revision to how the city will bargain with unions. As the code stands now, a third party mediator works out a compromise if negotiations between the city and the union reach a stalemate. It’s a process know as impasse resolution, and it relies on that neutral third party to mediate a compromise.
The mayor's ordinance initially did away with that entire process, striking four pages from the current municipal code. The revised AO-37 brings back a modified version of third-party arbitration.
“The first version had totally eliminated any kind of binding arbitration,” Assistant Municipal Attorney Will Earnhart said Friday. “In the current version, we've added binding arbitration back in. This is what's called baseball arbitration.” Earnhart said the amended ordinance allows for the arbitrator to pick between the two “last best offers” made by the city and the unions. Earnhart said that pick would then go to the assembly.
“They can come to an agreement any time prior to the arbitrator's pick,” Earnhart continued, emphasizing that the unions and the city will still be allowed to settle the impasse on their own. “So if they go to the arbitration and they've hammered it out and they go to the witnesses and they're worried what the assembly might do, then they can come to an agreement right up until the arbitrator’s decision is voted on by the assembly.”
Union leaders were also at the meeting, listening in on the questions being raised by the assembly. Some union leaders said, despite the amendments, the effectiveness of third-party arbitration is still being weakened through the mayor's ordinance.
Asselin claimed that, as the newly-amended ordinance now reads, the arbitrator’s decision doesn’t have any teeth. “Ultimately does the arbitrator's position really matter then? Is it binding arbitration then if the arbitrator’s decision isn't the controlling factor?”
As assembly members filed out and union reps paged through the 30-plus pages of the amended ordinance, Asselin distributed copies of a four-page letter to the mayor. In the letter, five city unions whose contracts are up for renegotiation in 2013 pledged to extend their current contract for a year—the letter also promises that extension “with a wage freeze”—if the assembly “indefinitely tables” the ordinance. The letter claimed doing so would allow for “time to breathe,” as well as a chance to work “in a collaborative process” towards revising the city’s labor laws.
Asselin said the union group is reaching out to the mayor with their letter. It was unclear Friday whether the mayor had received the letter.
The next step for AO-37 will be a final public comment period on Monday, March 11.