Our View: Vote sooner than later on labor law

September 26, 2013 

Three Assembly members have proposed putting off a public vote on Mayor Dan Sullivan's labor ordinance (AO 37) until as late as April 2015.

Their proposal may not violate the letter of the Anchorage Municipal Charter. But it certainly violates the spirit.

Foes of the labor ordinance, which puts the city's labor unions on a short leash in negotiating contracts, collected more than 22,000 signatures, about three times what the law requires, to put a referendum on the city ballot. It's fair to say that most who signed and most who didn't expected to vote yea or nay in the regular April 2014 election.

The city rejected the referendum, arguing that the labor law overhaul was an administrative matter and not subject to a public vote. Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth ruled otherwise. That gave labor law foes the green light to gather their signatures, and when they submitted their 22,000, that law was suspended.

Then the city decided to appeal Aarseth's decision to the state Supreme Court.

At about the same time, Jennifer Johnston, Amy Demboski and Bill Starr introduced a motion to delay the vote, citing wording in the city charter about referenda. Johnston said there were two reasons -- to wait for the Supreme Court decision and to pick an election with high turnout.

The first is fair enough. But there's a way to get the finality of a Supreme Court ruling without an unreasonable delay of the vote, and that's to ask for an expedited proceeding. The city won't do it. The unions will, and attorney Susan Orlansky said they expect to do so today. Expedited proceedings are common in election disputes.

As for waiting for an election with high turnout, that's simply abusing the charter to angle for political advantage. The reasonable person argument applies here. When people sign a petition to put an issue on the ballot, they expect to vote on it in a reasonable time -- not whenever the very Assembly majority that created the issue in the first place decides the time is right.

The call for delay doesn't pass the red face test. The mayor and Assembly majority were in an all-fired hurry last spring to pass a sweeping labor ordinance developed by a small group behind closed doors, arguing they needed the power for upcoming negotiations. Since then they've had a scare at the polls, a loss in Superior Court and 22,000 citizens saying we'll decide this one, not you. So now they want us to believe it's time for the slow roll, because they're champions of the judicial process and full public participation? No sale.

The high court can take its time and, if the justices concur with the lower court, still leave plenty of time for a timely April 2014 election -- with full and open debate.

BOTTOM LINE: Let's vote sooner than later on the city labor law.

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