City union law has support on Assembly, while vote is delayed two weeks

rshinohara@adn.comMarch 12, 2013 

— A rewrite of city labor law that would significantly weaken city unions moved off the fast track Tuesday but still seems to have the support of a majority on the Assembly.

The measure, written by the administration of Mayor Dan Sullivan, was originally to go to a vote Tuesday night. Assembly chairman Ernie Hall said he asked the mayor for a two-week delay, to March 26, so the plan could undergo more work. Sullivan agreed.

Another Assembly work session on the proposal is scheduled at 1 p.m. March 22, Hall said.

The Assembly held four nights of hearings on the proposed measure, at which 285 people spoke, according to the city clerk's office. Many were city workers, from fire equipment mechanics to evidence technicians. But some simply identified themselves as residents or taxpayers. All but a handful of the 285 opposed the Sullivan plan.

The Assembly shut down testimony Monday with dozens still in line to talk.

Speakers brought up some issues Assembly members say they want to address. For example, Assembly member Cheryl Frasca said fire prevention staff, police records clerks and police evidence technicians raised good arguments why their functions should not be eligible for contracting-out under the new law.

Debbie Ossiander said seven or eight parts of the proposal need to be clarified. "It could be better written," she said.

But six of the 11 Assembly members, including Frasca, said in interviews on Tuesday that they favor Sullivan's plan overall. That's enough to pass it. Four other members, Adam Trombley, Chris Birch, Jennifer Johnston and Hall, have signed on as sponsors. Bill Starr also says he believes the ordinance is needed. Ossiander isn't saying how she stands on the plan.

Other Assembly members don't like it at all.

"It needs to go to the shredder," said Dick Traini.

Patrick Flynn said it had been written over six months with no consultation with the Assembly. "It's an absolute outrage."

Elvi Gray-Jackson was similarly upset with the process. "The mayor says this clarifies and simplifies code," she said. It doesn't, she said, but does demoralize city employees.

Paul Honeman has also been critical of the plan.

Under the proposed new law, city unions would no longer have the right to strike or, in the case of police and firefighters, go to binding arbitration. The plan would eliminate raises based solely on longevity, or performance bonuses. It would standardize benefits like health plans. And it would limit raises to a five-year average of the consumer price index, plus 1 percent.

The plan would set up "managed competition," in which city employees would bid against private contractors for work.

Current city labor law is out of date, Sullivan says. His goal in rewriting the law is to streamline bargaining, match up union benefit programs, and control labor and administrative costs, he says.

The last public hearing ended Monday at 11 p.m.

The decision to cut off testimony was itself controversial.

The Assembly voted 6-3 Monday against holding another hearing before the 26th. Frasca, Hall, Johnston, Starr, Trombley and Birch opposed another hearing. Traini, Paul Honeman and Flynn wanted the addtional hearing. Ossiander was out of the room, and Gray-Jackson was in Washington, D.C.

Right after the vote, Anchorage Police Department Sgt. Gerard Asselin testified that the decision to cut off testimony was unprecedented, and not right. Asselin is the head of a coalition of all the city unions.

"We had conservatively 80 to 90 people standing in line," Asselin said Tuesday. "We're carefully looking at what our options are."

There was also some shouting from the audience after the vote to close the hearing. Union leaders helped get most of the crowd out the door.

Several police officers in uniforms and helmets with visors were standing by in a back room in case of trouble, said Assemblyman Chris Birch.

Hall said the Assembly hadn't asked for police assistance, but police officials decided they needed to be there.

"During the meeting last Wednesday they were a little more exuberant than they had been. There was also a gentleman that had to be removed that was intoxicated."

The people causing trouble were not connected to any labor unions, Hall said. "The unions have been so good about how they've managed the people, it's pretty incredible."

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

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