ANCHORAGE - Labor unions voiced their concerns to the Anchorage Assembly Wednesday over the mayor’s proposed ordinance to overhaul the city’s labor laws. It was in many ways a follow-up to last week’s meeting between the assembly and the administration.
In their presentation to the assembly, union lawyers were clear: They think the mayor's ordinance could have devastating effects for union workers, and for the city of Anchorage.
Union lawyers laid out a variety of criticisms of the proposed ordinance, alleging that it relies on unclear and at times contradictory definitions; that it creates new liabilities for the city through pension obligations; and that it would tie the assembly's hands in deciding how to negotiate future contracts. Previous work sessions, they said, have not cleared up their concerns.
“Last Friday the assembly heard members of the administration's team disagree with the basic definitions and meanings of these terms,” said union attorney Michael Tedesco, referring to terms used in the ordinance such as “labor costs,” “benefits,” and “taxes.” He said those terms, among others, are unclear or poorly defined, and would set the proposed overhaul up for problems.
“We would also like to point out,” Tedesco continued, “that this presents a significant shift of power away form the assembly and towards the executive.”
Concern over that shift was echoed by Assemblyman Dick Traini (District 4 - Midtown), who said the ordinance’s changes are better suited to a charter amendment. “My concern is this is a charter change without the benefit of going to the public for a confirming vote on that,” Traini said during the session. “And I would anticipate we would have numerous lawsuits following this, because this is simply a massive charter change, without the benefit of going and getting the public's view on it.”
“This is a massive shift in assembly power form the assembly to executive branch,” Traini said in an interview after the meeting, “[and it] should have gone to the voters of Anchorage.”
After the session, Mayor Sullivan said his proposal actually gives the assembly more power. “Right now the assembly has very little input on contracts as it is,” he said. “They get to vote up or down on a contract, or they get to vote up or down on a arbitrator's decision on a contract.”
“When you consider that it's the assembly that passes ordinances,” he continued, “they actually have an awful lot of power, as if this ordinance passes, that's their work that says how contracts should be negotiated in the future. So I don't know it transfer power to the mayor's office at all.”
Union members said they want this to be the beginning of a series of discussions with the assembly before the ordinance is voted on. “This is the first time we've had an open conversation with the assembly,” Rod Harris said. As president of the Anchorage Fire Fighters Union, he said that, “given the nature what’s being proposed,” he thinks “these conversations need to happen.”
While Harris said some of the questions about the ordinance remain unanswered, he said it was “unfortunate” that the mayor missed the bulk of the presentation from the union lawyers.
“Their whole presentation was in writing… so no, I didn’t miss anything,” Mayor Sullivan responded in an interview afterward, saying the presentation was simply a read-through of the prepared slides and that he “absolutely” heard the unions’ concerns today. “The real exchange came at the end, when you have assembly questions, and then they can actually answer and clarify what their slides actually meant.” The mayor was present for that portion of the work session, and he said he had staff listening the entire time.
At the close of the meeting, Assembly Chair Ernie Hall said there will be a special session next Wednesday, February 27, to take public comment on the ordinance. The session will be held in assembly chambers, with plans for the nearby Wilma Marston Theater to be opened up to accommodate a large group.