Point-Counterpoint: Unanswered questions will complicate negotiations

I have been a proud member of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association for more than 15 years. Today I am writing as the chair of the Coalition of Municipal Unions representing more than 2,200 municipal employees in eight different bargaining units. These employees serve the Anchorage community in a multitude of ways, including public safety, electricity, water safety, licensing and much more.

We were alarmed to learn of AO No. 2013-37 as it was released at 4:55 p.m. on a Friday and presented to the Assembly the following Tuesday. Mayor Sullivan's staff crafted this ordinance in private, with little outside consultation. Most disturbingly, his own department heads, most Assembly members and all labor representatives were completely left out of the planning process. This clearly illustrates an effort on the part of the mayor to have this ordinance come as a surprise. Anchorage citizens should wonder why the mayor would exclude his department heads from the planning process of such a far-sweeping ordinance that will negatively impact their employees' ability to provide their individual services.

The current collective bargaining ordinance has been in place for more than 40 years, last updated in 1989. It is utilized often and has worked for every previous administration since it was established. The mayor suggests that the reason for the complete overhaul is that it is out of date. Our coalition would contend that this ordinance is time-tested, reliable and fair.

As the ordinance is currently written, the mayor has the ability to implement any changes he wishes to make. But these changes would have to be done in good faith with supporting evidence. The newly proposed ordinance lacks both of these mandates, effectively eliminating any ability for working people to bargain for fair wages and benefits based on current market conditions.

Since the mayor took office in 2009, he has repeatedly stated that Anchorage is in financial trouble. He has threatened and enacted layoffs and eliminated unfilled positions. Last fall when our community was yet again faced with a reported budget shortfall, at least three union groups offered contract concessions and modifications in an effort to maintain the same level of service to the city. Much to our surprise, the mayor declined those offers. Weeks later, he offered an alternate budget that utilized unallocated school funds; layoffs were off the table and his budget objectives were met. The mayor clearly had prior knowledge of these funds months beforehand, so why wouldn't he take the union concessions, allocate the school money elsewhere and still have a balanced budget? We can only surmise that this proposed ordinance was already in the works and the mayor wanted to continue the facade that labor contracts were the cause of Anchorage's budget problems.

Mayor Sullivan has said that his amended ordinance will streamline the bargaining process. Unfortunately, it leaves so many unanswered questions that it will actually complicate negotiations and create many additional legal challenges. It's impossible to take eight work groups that serve our city and its citizens in eight completely different ways and fit them all under one very constrictive ordinance. Even if the ordinance were to be as functional as the mayor would suggest, the reality is there is no simple way to manage more than 2,200 employees and a half-billion-dollar budget. It takes time, effort and a willingness to work together for the greater good of our community. This amended ordinance as it is proposed does not encompass that.

Now, almost two weeks after Mayor Sullivan unveiled the ill-conceived AO 2013-37, it continues to be funneled through back rooms with little input from those affected. We hope that as Assembly members learn more about how this ordinance will actually affect delivery of services to the citizens of Anchorage, they will realize it is unnecessary, inefficient and unfair.

In the meantime, Anchorage's public employees will continue to provide necessary city services at a level that Anchorage taxpayers can be proud of. Just as we have been doing for more than 40 years.

Gerard Asselin is the chairman of the Coalition of Municipal Unions and a veteran Anchorage police officer.