Our View: Let's have labor law vote in April

January 14, 2014 

Labor law referendum

Court rules for vote; let's have it in April

The state Supreme Court ruled Friday that Anchorage voters have the right to decide on Mayor Dan Sullivan's labor law overhaul.

The mayor should relent in his opposition to putting the referendum on the ballot at the regularly scheduled April city elections.

The law, Anchorage Ordinance 37, would sharply curtail the bargaining power of city unions. The law prohibits strikes, limits raises, eliminates binding arbitration and opens the way to private competition for city services.

Sullivan and a small group of city officials quietly crafted the ordinance beginning in the fall of 2012, introduced it in February 2013 and tried to fast-track passage. City unions and others slowed that train down, but Sullivan eventually won a 6-5 vote on the Assembly.

He hasn't won a fight over it since.

The city first blocked the referendum effort by arguing that the ordinance is administrative rather than legislative in nature, and therefore not subject to public vote. Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth disagreed. That's the decision the high court confirmed last week.

After Aarseth ruled, union supporters collected more than 20,000 signatures -- three times the required number -- calling for a referendum to repeal the ordinance.

That effort suspended the law. Meanwhile, several Assembly members had second thoughts about the ordinance, arguing that it had caused too much division in the community, and the Assembly voted 7-4 to repeal the ordinance.

Sullivan vetoed the repeal.

Then the Assembly voted 6-5 to schedule the referendum vote for April.

Sullivan vetoed that too -- a veto that put him at odds with the Assembly on the fundamental question of whether his veto power extends to decisions over elections. The city charter gives authority over city elections to the Assembly, but also gives the mayor's veto power a long reach. That dispute is in court now.

The Sullivan administration has pursued the labor ordinance the wrong way from the start -- developing it in secret, trying to rush it through, opposing a public vote on the issue and then delaying a public vote. The mayor would have been better off -- and had more public support -- playing a straight hand and taking his cause to the bargaining table.

A reasonable person would expect to vote on the referendum at the next election. But the mayor and his supporters on the Assembly want to delay until November or even to 2015. If the mayor can veto the date of a referendum, he can effectively delay it until a date that suits him. To paraphrase the old axiom about justice, a vote of the people delayed is a vote of the people denied.

The mayor should drop his opposition and let the voters of Anchorage have the final say, in April.

BOTTOM LINE: Court says Anchorage can vote on the labor law. Let's do so in April.

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