Unions Respond to Mayor’s Ordinance
Labor representatives line up against proposed overhaul
ANCHORAGE - Mayor Dan Sullivan’s office released a proposal last Friday afternoon that aims to dramatically overhaul the city’s relationship with unions. And representatives from eight unions gathered this morning to respond.
Their response was unanimous: they don’t like it.
“These changes have been proposed without conversation with the employee groups affected,” said Jillane Inglis, vice president of the Anchorage Municipal Employee Association. Representing over 500 employees—from public health nurses to librarians—she said the mayor’s ordinance “does not show good faith negotiation.”
The union representatives said they had an early morning meeting with the mayor at eight o’clock Monday. They described a ten-minute meeting that left them with more questions than answers.
“We have a model that's been in place for about 44 years,” said Sgt. Gerard Asselin with the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association. “And the mayor appears to have sought to change this, and… I'm concerned at how much impact this might have, yet how little planning went into it.”
One part of the ordinance unions took issue with was the significant changes to how the city undertakes collective bargaining with unions. Under the new ordinance, strikes are prohibited, and the Anchorage Assembly can be called upon to decide which contract—the one offered by the city, or the one offered by the union—will ultimately be accepted.
“The proposal completely usurps the collective bargaining process by changing how the game is played,” said Greg Walker, who represents about 140 plumbers and steamfitters in Local 367. “But more importantly it changed the standard for how the process works in the future, the administration simply doesn't like how things are working, so it change the rules and changes the game again.”
Anchorage Fire Fighters Union President Rod Harris agreed, and said that giving final arbitration to the Anchorage Assembly would overtly politicize elections. “Right now, our work is done at the negotiating table,” he said. But if the ordinance passes, “our work will have to be done electing officials who will support public safety and community services.”
Harris also took issue with the ordinance’s introduction of managed competition, what the ordinance calls “the right of the municipality to contract with other entities” to do city work.
“Managed competition is another word for privatization,” Harris said. “It allows the mayor to hire private contractors to perform city services,” and while the ordinance exempts fire fighters and police from managed competition, Harris has concerns about how it could limit ambulance services in the city.
“When we take a chunk of that away, not only are we losing the ability to deliver EMS to the city any more, but we're losing a lot of our fire fighting resources,” Harris said. And private ambulances have not always worked, he continued: in some cities that replaced a municipal service with a private company, Harris said “those companies have closed up shop and gone away at a moments notice, and left the city holding the bag wondering how we can provide these services.”