Unions Respond to Mayor’s Ordinance
Labor representatives line up against proposed overhaul
Anchorage Assembly Chair Ernie Hall is sponsoring the mayor’s ordinance. He said he doesn’t agree with everything in the mayor’s proposal, but things that the negotiations have to start somewhere. “We’ve got a lot of incongruities in our labor contracts,” Hall said, describing a Byzantine system involving hundreds of healthcare providers, separate calendars for holidays, and different standards for compensation. “It's unbelievable, and if there’s one thing we should do as an organization, it’s try to sort it out, so we're all playing by the same rules.”
After his morning meeting with the unions, Mayor Sullivan traveled to Juneau for the Alaska Municipal League. In a phone interview this afternoon, he said many of the ordinance’s provisions were inspired by the rules in Juneau, and that the timing was right. “We need to do it before we get in to contract negotiations which will start here in just a few weeks,” he said, “and the reason was we want labor agreements that are consistent, that are simple to understand, and that are fair to both sides.”
As for putting the final decision on contracts with the assembly, and eliminating a third-party arbiter for contract negotiations, Sullivan said it’s the right move. “We're putting forth our idea, there are certainly free to disagree and put forth their own idea,” he said in response to the concerns raised by union reps. “Arbitrators are expensive, and we feel the assembly has been elected to make these kinds of decisions. Remember that arbitrator’s decisions go to the assembly anyway, so what you've added is just an extra step in the process.”
And the mayor said he thinks unifying the city’s thousands of employees under one set of rules—and implementing strict three-year limits for those contracts—is a good idea.
“Three year contracts allow you to be more nimble, to allow you to respond to economic downturns,” he said. “As we've seen, in the midst of the worst recession in 70 years, in 2008, the then-mayor and then-assembly passed a contract that has locked us in to terms that, quite frankly, given the economic realities, were probably not appropriate.”
Both the mayor and Assembly Chair Hall stressed that the ordinance is just a starting point for the discussion. But it already is facing some opposition in the assembly—former police officer and current Assemblyman Paul Honeman said he’s against the ordinance in its entirety—today the union workers were clear when they said it's the exact opposite of where they want to end up.