Labor Ordinance Discussion Continues Before Assembly
Hundreds of city employees show up again to testify at second public hearing
ANCHORAGE - City employees are fighting to maintain their livelihoods. This is the second week in a row union members have lined up for public testimony. The chambers, which often hold just a few dozen people, held hundreds. Security guards had to limit the number of people inside because of the fire code. Everyone who testified got three minutes, and at 10 p.m. there was still a line of people wanting to speak to the assembly
Assembly chair Ernie Hall said changing the rules that govern how city employee contracts are negotiated isn't an attack on the city's workers. "They were written in 1989 and they need to be updated. The only way we can do that is to make adjustments." He said the new rules would give everyone the same holidays and streamline the insurance offered to employees.
Assembly member Jennifer Johnston said the current system for increasing pay isn't working. "I think we need to allow for raises as the municipality... as the revenues come in. I think we need to reward good work, but I don't think we need to set it in stone so that everybody is rewarded not matter what."
Those that could be affected made a variety of appeals, and some were emotional: police officers who talked about what their jobs put them through, administrative workers who've already seen cuts in their offices, and an 11-year-old girl, Rivers Ducharme, whose father is a city employee. During Ducharme’s testimony, she called the proposed law wrong, and asked those who agreed to stand. The audience rose and applauded. Hall gaveled for order. When the room quieted, she said, "All these people didn't come here for nothing. All these people came here... this should tell you something."
There were also some clear-cut concerns. James Gray, a fire inspector, said he hoped a for-profit business wouldn't take over inspecting homes for fire safety. "That might endanger the public," he said.
Johnston said employees are overestimating the threat, "I don't think it will be as draconian as people think. We're working with some of the unions and we're trying to address their needs"
The unions are keeping a close eye on what those changes will mean to them.