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City unions offer wage freezes if Assembly delays action on measure to curb their power

Rosemary Shinohara

Five city unions offered Friday to take wage freezes for a year in a move to delay a sweeping city law change headed to the Assembly on Tuesday that would curb the power of city labor groups.

Mayor Dan Sullivan and Assembly leaders have been pushing to get the labor ordinance passed this month because a new round of bargaining for city unions begins in April.

In a last-ditch attempt to slow the process, the city unions gave Sullivan a letter Friday saying the five unions with contracts expiring this year are willing to freeze pay and extend their existing contracts for a year if the Assembly "indefinitely tables the ordinance."

Leaders of other city unions with contracts valid through 2014 said they'd agree to enter immediate talks with city officials to find cost savings and streamline benefits if the labor law is tabled.

"It is still poorly drafted, lacks proper definitions, and does not consider all of the possible impacts on the various departments," the unions' letter to Sullivan said. "In addition, we do not understand the urgency in light of what we understand to be the municipality's 2012 budget surplus of $19 million to $30 million."

Sullivan said he hadn't read the union offer at midday Friday and won't comment on it until he has a chance to review it with city lawyers. City finance officials say they won't know for a couple more weeks about any balance left over from 2012.

As it stands, the labor ordinance is set to come to the Assembly for action Tuesday. The last of four nights of public hearings on the proposal is scheduled from 6 to 11 p.m. Monday in Loussac Library.

The proposal would take away the power of city government unions to strike or have binding arbitration, eliminate performance bonuses or incentives and limit raises to a maximum of 1 percent over the five-year average of the consumer price index. It would standardize health benefits. And it would set up "managed competition" in which city employees would compete with private companies for some jobs.

In other developments Friday, the Sullivan administration presented a revised version of his plan to the Assembly at a work session, and the ACLU of Alaska executive director sent a letter to Assembly chairman Ernie Hall saying it would not be legal for the Assembly to cut off public testimony at 11 p.m. Monday as planned if people are still waiting to speak. The Anchorage municipal charter guarantees people the right to be heard, ACLU executive director Jeffrey Mittman said.

An assistant city attorney earlier this week told Assembly members in a memo that it's OK to cut off testimony. The memo, from Todd Sherwood, said the Assembly chairman can close public testimony if it's reasonable to do so and is not arbitrary or capricious. The decision also can't be based on the content of the debate.

Some of the changes that went into the latest version of the labor plan came as a result of the public hearings, Sullivan said in an interview.

For example, the new version clarifies that not just police officers and firefighters would be exempt from managed competition but also emergency dispatch workers, the emergency medical service workers, fire prevention officials, and police community service officers.

Other major changes:

Arbitration: The original version eliminated arbitrators and left the Assembly to choose whether to adopt a union's proposal or an administration proposal for a contract in dispute.

The latest rewrite restores arbitration but says the arbitrator can't pick and choose portions of each sides' offer; the arbitrator must pick one side or the other's position in its entirety. If the Assembly accepts the arbitrators' decision, it must approve the decision with at least eight votes. If the Assembly doesn't accept the decision, the administration can impose its last, better offer.

The arbitrator "puts another level of expertise into the negotiations, which is good," Sullivan said.

The setup puts pressure on both parties to come up with proposals that are close together, he said.

After the work session, police union president Derek Hsieh said he doesn't see how that type of arbitration would bring parties together. "It seems hyperpolitical with a lot of power" given to the mayor, Hsieh said.

 

Managed competition: The new version says the administration will come up with a managed competition program within 180 days, or about six months. The proposal before the Assembly now just sets policies for doing it.

 

Benefits: The new language clarifies that a proposal to standardize benefits programs among unions applies to health, dental, life or disability plans but not retirement or pension plans.

 

Maximum pay increases: Instead of limiting raises to the five-year average of the consumer price index, the limit would be the five-year-average plus 1 percent.

 

Pay enhancements: The new version specifies what would happen to incentive programs. The administration wants to eliminate performance incentives. But Sullivan emphasizes the regular step raises employees get for experience would not be touched.

Sullivan said in an interview that his proposal would not eliminate collective bargaining. "It does nothing of the kind. It strengthens management rights in a few instances. ... I just find that there's nothing here that doesn't make common sense."

 

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


By ROSEMARY SHINOHARA
rshinohara@adn.com