Proposed union law a bad idea, city workers tell Assembly

Rosemary Shinohara
Margie Goodrich and AFD firefighter Bob Crockett wait in line to enter the Anchorage Assembly chambers Wednesday evening, February 27, 2013.
Anchorage city workers picket on the corner of 36th and Denali Wednesday evening, February 27, 2013 during the Assembly meeting.
Bill Roth

Hundreds of union workers jammed Assembly Chambers at Loussac Library, spilled out into the lobby, and filled another meeting room Wednesday night for an Assembly hearing on Mayor Dan Sullivan's plan to limit the power of city labor groups.

Counting people gathered outside the library, fire inspector Craig Torrey estimated the crowd at as many as 1,000. The city set up a large TV screen in the Wilda Marston Theatre across the lobby from the Assembly meeting room so more people could watch.

Police officers, paramedics, ML&P workers, office workers -- city employee after city employee came out to tell the Assembly they think the mayor's proposal is a bad idea.

"It's wrong. It's arbitrary and in my eyes it's evil," said Roy Smith, who works in the People Mover maintenance shop.

Sullivan's proposal, if approved, will take power from city unions to strike or arbitrate disputes with the city, making the Assembly the final decision-maker. It eliminates raises based solely on longevity, or performance bonuses. And it limits raises to a five-year average of the consumer price index.

The plan would set up "managed competition," in which city employees would bid against private contractors for work.

The plan is scheduled to come up for Assembly action on March 12.

Current city labor law is out of date, Sullivan says. His goal in rewriting the law is to streamline bargaining, match up union benefit programs, and control labor and administrative costs, he says.

Sullivan named it the Responsible Labor Act.

"I'm offended by the name of the ordinance," said Julius Matthew with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He said he thought it was wrong for the administration to send out the ordinance late on a Friday afternoon.

Cindy Liggett, a member of the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association who has worked for the city for more than 30 years, said, "There was a time when we had so many people lined up to work" for the Parks Department. But, she said, "For the past few years it's like working in a hostile environment."

Francis McLaughlin, a city planner, said the mayor manufactures problems such as budget shortfalls by not raising the money to pay for public services.

"This mayor creates problems that did not exist before."

Chip Serns, a firefighter-paramedic, said his union negotiates safety measures related to staffing. The union contract "directly affects my ability to do my job safety," Serns said.

"We're middle-class employees working hard to make ends meet," said police patrol Sgt. John McKinnon. He said he thinks the ordinance attacks three reasons people work for the city: pay, benefits and quality of life.

"Don't be part of this degrading ordinance," he urged the Assembly.

The hearing Wednesday night was a continuation of the Assembly's Tuesday night meeting.

An Assembly work session on the plan is set for 10 a.m. March 8 at city hall. The measure will come up for Assembly discussion and possible vote on March 12, Hall said.

Union members and their leaders have already made their feelings known.

When the proposal was introduced at the Assembly Feb. 12, 1,000 or more workers and their allies flooded the Assembly meeting, and Loussac Library, where the meeting was held.

A few days later, Feb. 20, attorneys representing a number of the eight city unions heavily critiqued the proposal.

They said the plan contains many undefined but important terms, the limits on raises don't take into account market considerations, and the plan to offer uniform benefits to all city employees will amount to a rollback in benefits.


Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.