Sullivan proposes law to limit city unions' pay increases, power

rshinohara@adn.comFebruary 9, 2013 

Dan Sullivan

Mayor Dan Sullivan

EVAN R. STEINHAUSER — ADN

— Mayor Dan Sullivan and two Assembly leaders are introducing a measure Tuesday that would weaken the power of city labor unions.

If approved, the proposal would rewrite city law in a way that takes away the right to strike, curbs pay increases and eliminates raises based solely on longevity or performance bonuses.

Unions would not be allowed to seek binding arbitration to resolve contract disputes under the proposal. Those disputes would be decided by the Assembly.

Sullivan's plan would also allow "managed competition," in which the city workforce competes with the private sector for certain jobs. It would limit union contract terms to three years.

No existing contracts would be affected.

The proposal by the conservative, second-term mayor aims to make sweeping changes to the way many city employees negotiate for their pay and benefits. The plan is expected to come up for public hearing and a possible vote Feb. 26.

Sullivan said Saturday that the labor relations code was last amended in 1989. "It really is out of date with current municipal operations," he said.

"We're not trying to be Wisconsin or Michigan, eliminating public employee unions," Sullivan said. "We're really trying to concentrate on what's efficient."

The administration wants to be consistent in what it offers, simplify, and have the ability to manage efficiently, he said. The city's proposal is similar to the kind of laws Juneau has been operating under for decades, the mayor said.

He will meet with union leaders Monday morning to brief them, Sullivan said.

Jillanne Inglis, vice president of the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association, said it's too early to comment on the specifics of the proposals, which the union received at 4:55 p.m. Friday. AMEA represents about 520 employees and is one of the biggest of the nine city unions. The AMEA contract expires in December.

"We are still digesting everything in the proposals," Inglis said. "Really this is a resounding change in the personnel rules for collective bargaining. It should be done with multiple work sessions and discussions. It's a drastic change."

Derek Hsieh, president of the police union, said he wants to hear what the mayor has to say before commenting. The police union has nearly 500 members and a contract that expires at end of 2014.

Inglis and Hsieh said representatives of all the city unions plan to hold a joint press conference at 11 a.m. Monday at 4001 Denali St.

Assembly chairman Ernie Hall and vice chairwoman Jennifer Johnston co-sponsored the measure.

"As a public official, you've got to figure out a way to negotiate with employees as well as doing a good job for people who elected you, trying to hold those costs as much as you can," Hall said Saturday.

"Why it's happening now is the changes have to be done a certain time in advance of labor negotiations," Hall said.

The proposal comes at a time when Sullivan has substantial support on the Assembly, and weeks before six of the 11 Assembly seats are up for election.

Two Assembly members contacted were upset about getting word of such a major policy change on Friday night, for introduction Tuesday. The proposal was not on the regular Assembly agenda that was published earlier in the week, along with accompanying documents. It was added to the agenda Friday.

"Obviously this thing has been in the works for a long time," Assemblyman Patrick Flynn said. "And then, why is it up for public hearing and final consideration in two weeks? To me, it doesn't feel right."

Assemblyman Dick Traini and Flynn both noted that the proposal came out the same day as the deadline for filing to run for the Assembly.

Sullivan said city officials were working on the proposal up until the last minute to get it ready to introduce Tuesday. The timing had nothing to do with the upcoming election, he said.

Union groups are among the top contributors to Assembly campaigns.

Traini said he opposes the mayor's proposal. "I think it's abysmal," he said. "It abrogates our traditional history of collective bargaining."

Flynn said he's going to read through it. "Some things seem reasonable, like aligning holidays," he said.

Among the specific provisions:

  • Labor cost increases in any year would be limited to the average percentage change of the state's consumer price index for Anchorage over the prior five years.
  • Employee health plans would all be the same. If a union has its own health plan, city contributions to the plan would be no higher than city spending on the plan sponsored by the municipality.
  • All pay-for-performance incentive pay or longevity pay would be eliminated.
  • If a union and management reached the end of negotiations with no agreement, their last offers would be presented to the Assembly, which would choose one or the other side but make no changes.
  • Strikes would be prohibited.

When Sullivan came into office in 2009, he regularly complained that the previous administration of then-mayor Mark Begich and the Assembly had approved overly generous and overly long contracts, especially considering the national recession.

Just before Begich left the mayor's job to become a U.S. senator, the Assembly approved new five-year contracts with four of the city's nine labor unions, the police, fire, the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Assemblywoman Johnston said she agrees those contracts were excessive.

"I really do feel that we got ourselves into an unsustainable position for five years," she said. "Because of that I've had the fun of cutting budgets for the entire time I've been on the Assembly. I think it's time to streamline things."


Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.

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