Along with the chair and co-chair of the Anchorage Assembly, I introduced AO 2013-37, the Responsible Labor Act, an ordinance intended to improve the process by which municipal labor negotiations are conducted. The municipal labor ordinance has not been updated in nearly 25 years and there have been significant changes in business processes over that period. It is timely to review how to make future labor contracts consistent, easy to understand and implement, and fair to employees, the administration, and the taxpayers who fund municipal government.
It is important to underscore what the ordinance does not do. It does not do away with collective bargaining or public unions. It does not affect the terms of any current municipal labor contracts. It does not affect the labor contracts of the Anchorage School District. It does not affect any employee currently enrolled in a longevity or service recognition program. And it has no impact on the step increases incorporated into a classification pay range.
If implemented, the ordinance will do the following:
• Standardization of benefit programs
Currently there are over 680 combinations of eligibility within the various benefit plans. Many large companies and public institutions offer outstanding benefit programs that include just a few appropriate options. Our goal is to create a uniform program that will give the employees good choices and allow the administration to better manage the program. We are also looking to standardize holidays, leave programs and overtime.
• Three-year limit on contracts
The State of Alaska, by statute, limits labor contracts to three years. We think that is good policy as it allows both sides the flexibility to adjust contracts depending on current economic conditions. It also gives subsequent administrations an opportunity to participate in contract negotiations.
• Future raises tied to the economy
The ordinance proposes setting the maximum that labor costs can increase by tying the increases to the previous five-year average of the Consumer Price Index. This average is a good gauge of where the economy is at and will help guarantee that public services will not have to be cut because the costs of labor are excessive. Since 2009, without these restraints, the average cost per municipal employee has risen from $92,000 to $116,000, over double the rate of inflation.
• Protecting public service delivery
The Supreme Court has ruled that public employees do not have the right to strike. While strikes are rare, residents should never have to worry about essential services being disrupted while labor and management are deliberating contracts. This ordinance provides that assurance.
• Managed competition
Many cities, including Seattle, San Diego, and Indianapolis offer certain municipal services for competitive bid. The public sector employees as well as private entities can bid to perform the work. Often times, the public employees win these bids because they know the work and when put into a competitive environment become very creative and resourceful regarding how to do the job better and more cost effectively. Public safety services including EMS are not eligible for competitive bid under this ordinance.
These are the main components of the Responsible Labor Act. Since its introduction, we have received valuable comments from the unions, assembly members and the public that will help strengthen the final document.
We believe that the ordinance ensures that future labor agreements will serve the workforce and the community fairly and with common sense. It will upgrade the code to reflect contemporary standards and best practices. The ordinance is available online at muni.org/responsiblelaboract, or call your elected officials for more information.
Dan Sullivan has served as mayor of Anchorage since 2009. Before that he served on the Anchorage Assembly.