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Public has one last chance to speak on city union ordinance

Rosemary Shinohara

The Anchorage Assembly voted late Wednesday to hold one last public hearing, from 6 to 11 p.m. Monday, on a proposed city ordinance that would clip the power of city unions.

The decision came at the end of a five-hour hearing Wednesday night at Loussac Library, with people still standing in line to speak.

Some in the audience booed as Assemblywoman Jennifer Johnston moved to close testimony Monday. As grumbling from the audience continued, Assembly chairman Ernie Hall threatened to clear the room. "We have business to take care of," he said.

The ordinance, proposed by Mayor Dan Sullivan, comes up for Assembly action on Tuesday.

Sullivan's proposal, if approved, will take from city unions the ability to strike or arbitrate disputes with the city, leaving the Assembly as the final decision-maker on the terms of all union contracts. The proposal eliminates raises based solely on longevity, or performance bonuses. It limits salary increases to a five-year average of the consumer price index.

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

Sullivan has argued that existing city labor law is outdated. He said he wants to streamline bargaining, match up union benefit programs and control labor and administrative costs

The Assembly held 15 hours of hearings this week and last, with those who spoke overwhelmingly opposed to the proposal. Maybe three people spoke in favor of the ordinance, Hall said, but "quite a few" ordinance supporters emailed Assembly members.

Many of those who testified are union workers for the city, some are state or School District union employees and some are interested citizens.

Some speakers noted the city under Sullivan has ended each year with a financial surplus, which shows the ordinance isn't driven by the need to solve a financial problem. Chief financial officer Lucinda Mahoney said the city hasn't closed the books on 2012 but in about two weeks will know the final balance for the year.

Jason Penman, assistant team leader for the Anchorage Police Department sniper team, told the Assembly Wednesday night that the ordinance cuts incentives for qualified people to become police officers.

"Just yesterday I was called out to an intoxicated man brandishing a rifle in South Anchorage," Penman said. "That call I understand. I can wrap my head around those risks. What I can't wrap my head around is how my elected officials shake my hand with one hand saying what a good job the department is doing. But yet, with the other hand, cut off my legs from beneath us."

Penman said if the Sullivan plan passes as written, he would look to retire from the force next year and find a job elsewhere. Before this came up, he thought he would stay on the job at least 25 years, he said. He's been an Anchorage police officer for more than 18 years.

The Assembly heard from about 70 people a night in each of three hearings -- one last week and two this week.

At the end of the meeting Wednesday, Sullivan said the administration's proposed amendments to the initial draft of the ordinance, based partly on public testimony, will be posted on the city website, muni.org, this week so people who testify next Monday will have the latest version.

The Assembly will have a work session on the proposal from 10 a.m. to noon Friday at city hall.

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


By ROSEMARY SHINOHARA
rshinohara@adn.com