Critics of Anchorage labor-law rewrite file new petition seeking a repeal vote

rshinohara@adn.comApril 20, 2013 

— Backers of a proposed referendum to repeal a recently-adopted rewrite of Anchorage's city labor law are trying again after city officials turned down their first attempt at writing a petition.

The city last week rejected the petition for a referendum -- a public vote on whether to repeal the ordinance -- on legal grounds.

The city attorney's office said the wording of the petition didn't meet some technical standards.

Also, city attorney Dennis Wheeler said the labor law rewrite can't legally be the subject of a referendum vote because referendums are restricted to actions that are legal, not administrative. The city maintains the labor law rewrite was administrative.

The petition backers -- which include leaders of city unions and others -- made some changes and re-submitted the petition to the city clerk's office Friday, said Andy Holleman, president of the Anchorage's teacher's union and one of two main petition sponsors.

"The two technical issues were fixed, and we disagree with the legislative-administrative interpretation," Holleman said in an email Saturday. "The shortest reasoning is that it is clearly intended that citizens have recourse to Assembly actions."

He said if the labor law changes don't qualify for redress, "then any ordinance could have a little 'administrative' stuff sprinkled in, making it petition-proof."

The labor law rewrite, passed March 26, takes power from the eight city unions. It eliminates the right to strike, says there'll be no performance bonuses or incentives in future city contracts, and limits annual pay increases. It also sets up a system for outsourcing some of the work done by city employees.

Mayor Dan Sullivan co-sponsored the plan with two Assembly leaders. Sullivan has said he wanted it to be approved before the city began a new round of bargaining with its unions in April.

The city clerk's office has 10 days to respond to the revised petition.

If the city again rejects the petition, the sponsors are planning to challenge the rejection in court, Holleman said.

If the petition is approved, the sponsors must collect roughly 7,200 signatures of registered voters to get the issue placed on a city election ballot.

If they can gather those signatures within 60 days of the day the ordinance was passed, the city would be required to suspend the ordinance until an election were held on the question.

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

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