More than 750 people, many representing eight labor groups, clogged the Tuesday night Anchorage Assembly meeting in a sign of the fight to come over Mayor Dan Sullivan's proposal to weaken city unions.
Assembly members voted 7-4 to allow the proposal to proceed to a public hearing on Feb. 26. Assembly members Dick Traini, Paul Honeman, Elvi Gray-Jackson and Patrick Flynn voted to kill the plan outright.
Sullivan says the sweeping changes are long overdue and necessary to streamline labor negotiations and deliver city services cheaper and more efficiently. As written, the plan would limit raises, eliminate the right to strike and give the Assembly the final word on stalled labor disputes, among many new provisions.
City unions fired back on Monday, calling the proposal poorly planned and hasty. Police officers, firefighters and engineers swarmed the Assembly meeting room Tuesday night at the Loussac Library.
"It's important that the Assembly see this, because these are people who are concerned about their livelihoods," said Rod Harris, president of the Anchorage firefighters union.
Fire Chief Chris Bushue told the crowd that some people would have to clear the room. Others were asked to leave the nearby lobby, while still more union members and their allies chanted outside.
"I've never seen the Assembly this crowded," Bushue said.
Hall, who is a sponsor of the measure along with Assembly member Jennifer Johnston, said he wasn't surprised by the turnout.
"These people are concerned about what's going to be happening with their pay scales," he said. "There's nothing in this reducing anybody's pay scale. All contracts that are in place now are totally unaffected."
Cameron Hokenson, a patrol sergeant for the Anchorage Police Department, said union officials who have reviewed the proposal believe it could lead to deep cuts to overall pay and benefits.
It would be a life-changing blow to the police officers he supervises, said Hokenson, who described himself as a conservative who retired from a military career before joining the police.
"This seems like it's going too far, to me personally," he said.
The question at hand Tuesday was supposed to be the simplest of Assembly tasks: moving a new proposal forward for future discussion.
Assembly members rejected the proposal by East Anchorage Assemblyman Honeman to postpone the labor rewrite indefinitely. That would have killed the measure. The vote was allowed only after a break in the meeting to research whether such a vote was admissible under Robert's Rules of Order.
Gray-Jackson, who represents Midtown, proposed pushing discussion of the proposal until late April, after the April 2 city elections. That effort failed 6-5, with Gray-Jackson, Traini, Flynn, Honeman and Debbie Ossiander voting to postpone.
Hall said the new labor rules need to be in place by the end of March or first of April in order to apply to upcoming labor negotiations.
Something needs to change in order to keep city spending plans at pace with the consumer price index, Hall said before the meeting. "If you don't do that, you have pay increases that you end up having to cut personnel back because you can't afford the cost of the increase."
The mayor is in Juneau for Alaska Municipal League meetings.
The Assembly is expected to discuss the labor law proposal at a work session 1 p.m. Friday at City Hall.