The Anchorage Assembly Tuesday night narrowly passed a rewrite of city labor laws that tips the balance of power in negotiations with city unions more toward management.
The vote was 6-5, with Cheryl Frasca, Jennifer Johnston, Ernie Hall, Chris Birch, Bill Starr and Adam Trombley in favor and Paul Honeman, Dick Traini, Patrick Flynn, Debbie Ossiander and Elvi Gray-Jackson against.
The new law eliminates the power of city government unions to strike or have binding arbitration, forbids performance bonuses or incentives in future contracts and limits raises to a maximum of 1 percent over the five-year average of Anchorage’s inflation rate. It calls for standard health benefits across unions.
It sets up “managed competition” in which city employees would compete with private companies for some jobs.
Mayor Dan Sullivan, who sponsored the proposal, said he was pleased. “This is an ordinance that allows us to make sure the pendulum does not sway one way or the other,” he said in an interview after the vote.
Sullivan has frequently complained that contracts negotiated in 2008 by the last administration were overly generous and left the city in a financial bind.
The revisions make common sense, he said. The old labor law was out of date, he said.
Supporters on the Assembly had little to say about the proposal before the vote Tuesday, but six members had already made clear in the last couple of weeks that they were in favor of it.
Opponents on the Assembly spoke passionately against it.
Two of them spoke about the Assembly’s decision to shut down public testimony March 11 while there were still people standing in line hoping to speak.
“The decision to close public testimony prematurely has irrevocably harmed our public process,” Flynn said.
“I really hope that each of you when you cast your vote understand what you are doing. Because some day you will reap what you have sown,” he said.
Traini said he is concerned the decision to end the public hearings was “arbitrary and capricious.”
Honeman urged his Assembly colleagues to push back against the administration.
“Sometimes we have to push back and sometimes we have to shove back. … We’re going to shove back against some rushed crap, and that’s what this is. And I apologize for that last comment,” Honeman said.
Gray-Jackson said to the administration: “You did this the wrong way. You did it in secrecy. You did it for political reasons and that is so wrong.”
Sullivan and Assembly leaders have been pushing to get the ordinance passed this month because a new round of bargaining for city unions begins in April.
Before getting to the main proposal, the Assembly rejected a move by Honeman to delay a decision on the labor law for six months, until October.
Honeman said he wanted the city to take more time and use a more collaborative approach to making changes, such as happened during 1988 and 1989 the last time there were major revisions.
Those against the delay did not make any statements.
Honeman did succeed with an amendment that states no city employee would suffer a loss of base pay as a result of changes of the labor law.
The Assembly has had about six weeks to consider the labor law rewrite.
The administration kept its proposal secret until the Friday before it was to be introduced, Feb. 8, which was also the deadline for Assembly candidates to file to run in the April 2 city election. Most Assembly members didn’t know it was coming, nor did union leaders.
The last of four public hearings on the measure closed March 11 after a total of 285 people spoke, according to the city clerk’s office. More people were waiting to speak, but the Assembly voted to end the hearings. Nearly everyone testifying was against the rewrite. Most were city employees – police officers, firefighters, planners, records clerks and more.
Shutting down the public hearings just added to the controversy. The ACLU in Anchorage sent a letter to the Assembly saying under the city’s charter, it was not legal to cut off testimony while people still waited to be heard. The city attorney’s office produced an opinion that it was legal.
Derek Hsieh, president of the police union, said a lot of confusion surrounds the measure that passed. There were four different versions produced by the administration, and the final draft of the last one was only available Tuesday night, he said.
“I’m not even sure what they passed,” he said.
• Limits annual pay raises.
• Standardizes health benefits for all employees.
• Performance Incentive Programs will not be included in future contracts.
• Management is to have control over staffing and scheduling. Use of seniority for some staffing decisions is part of at least one union contract now.
• New contracts are limited to three years. Several existing ones were for five years.
• Arbitrators called in to resolve disputes must pick one side or the other in total. They can’t combine portions from each side.
• It takes eight of the 11 votes on the Assembly to approve an arbitrator’s decision. If the Assembly doesn’t approve a decision, the municipality can implement its last, best offer.
• Unions are prohibited from striking, and there is no binding arbitration in cases where employees were already prohibited from striking, like police officers.
• Contracts must allow for “managed competition,” or outsourcing of some city functions.
Reach Rosemary Shinohara at email@example.com or 257-4340.