Assembly Split Over Mayor’s New Ordinance
First hearing of divisive overhaul to how the city draws up union contracts
ANCHORAGE - The Anchorage Assembly is divided after the introduction of Mayor Dan Sullivan's ordinance that aims to dramatically re-write the city's labor laws.
In the days leading up to the ordinance’s first reading, unions have been gearing up for a fight. Outside the Assembly meeting Tuesday night, demonstrators chanted “no on 37.” Inside, the assembly chambers—as well as the adjacent lobby—were filled beyond capacity. In all, more than 1,500 people gathered to show their opposition to the mayor’s ordinance.
Inside, an internal struggle within the assembly was also being waged, as several members tried to stop the ordinance before it even got started. Assemblyman Paul Honeman (District 5-East Anchorage) first called for the ordinance to not be read at all. When that didn't work, others tried to delay the hearing for public testimony by weeks.
In the end, the ordinance was accepted for first reading. But while the union crowd dispersed soon after the assembly moved on to other business, the assembly members remain divided on the issue.
“It's a common sense approach to dealing with what is a significant cost to our city operations,” said Assemblyman Chris Birch (District 6-South Anchorage). He supports the bill, and said today that he thinks it doesn’t go far enough.
“We look are recruiting efforts for police and fire academies, and we’ll typically have hundreds respond for each open position,” Birch said. “The city doesn't really have a problem at this point and retaining very qualified and capable employees.”
But opponents of the bill said today they think the way the mayor has handled the issue reveals political—rather than fiscal—motivations. And they aren't happy about being left out of the process.
“The mayor doesn’t reach out to me about anything,” said Elvi Gray-Jackson (District 4-Midtown). “I think what would have been a better approach was for the mayor and my two colleagues to contact all the unions and any other stake holders and sat down at the table and draft some kind of ordinance that would have helped everyone come to some kind of consensus.”
Those colleagues Gray-Jackson referred to are the ordinance’s co-sponsors in the Anchorage Assembly, Chair Ernie Hall (District 3 - West Anchorage) and Jennifer Johnston (District 6 - South Anchorage).
The city and the unions are scheduled to come back to the bargaining table within a month. Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler said Wednesday that two union contracts are set to expire at the end of June. By law, negotiations for a new contract must begin no less than 90 days from the current contract’s expiration date. Whether a consensus can be reached before then remains to be seen.