Sullivan presents revision of labor law rewrite

Rosemary Shinohara

Mayor Dan Sullivan presented a new version of his proposed rewrite of city labor laws to the Anchorage Assembly at a work session Friday, and the proposal heads to the Assembly Tuesday night for a possible decision.

The mayor's plan 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 Anchorage's inflation rate. It would standardize health benefits.

It would set up "managed competition" in which city employees would compete with private companies for some jobs.

Sullivan has said he wants the changes to make union negotiations more efficient and save the city money. City labor union members and their supporters have packed Assembly meetings in recent weeks to speak out against it.

The changes in the proposal unveiled Friday were mostly refinements -- for example, adding "education pay" to the list of bonus pay programs that will be eliminated.

But about 4:30 p.m. Friday, after the work session, city attorney Dennis Wheeler sent out a new version, labeled S-2 for second substitute, with half a dozen changes.

The S-2 version included one change Assembly members Cheryl Frasca and Debbie Ossiander talked about during the work session: exempting more positions from being considered for outsourcing.

The measure presented at the work session would have exempted firefighters, EMS, fire prevention, police officers, community service officers and dispatchers.

The latest one added police evidence technicians and records clerks to the list of positions not to be considered for managed competition.

Assembly members still had lots of questions Friday -- both about what the proposal included and what it didn't

For example, Ossiander said she expected to see language saying unions could negotiate whether seniority should be a factor in staffing, scheduling and overtime as it is in some cases now. But the latest administration draft just calls staffing and scheduling, including overtime, "management rights."

After the work session Ossiander said, "I'm frustrated." She said she was feeling "negative" toward the ordinance at the moment.

Another critic of the proposal, Paul Honeman, handed out a resolution he plans to introduce at Tuesday's Assembly meeting calling for the Assembly to postpone voting on the plan for six months, until Oct. 8.

In 1988 and 1989, when the labor law last underwent comprehensive revisions, the Assembly and administration collaborated on the rewrite, Honeman said, and set up a task force to examine it.

He'd like to see that happen again.

The administration this time kept its proposal secret until the Friday before it was to be introduced, Feb. 8, which was also the deadline for Assembly candidates to file to run in the April 2 city election. Most Assembly members didn't know it was coming, nor did unions or even some city department heads.

There's still plenty of Assembly support for the proposal.

Four Assembly members co-sponsored it with the mayor: Adam Trombley, Chris Birch, Jennifer Johnston and Ernie Hall.

The Assembly held four public hearings at which 285 people testified. Unions made a big showing, drawing hundreds of people to demonstrate opposition to the plan.

City unions also offered to take wage freezes for a year and extend their existing contracts if the city would delay consideration of the proposal.

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

Sullivan turned down the unions' offer of wage freezes.

In turning down the offer last week, he said, "... it appears much of the criticism from the unions is based on philosophical opposition to allowing the Assembly and administration to exercise more control over how contracts are negotiated. Tabling this ordinance will not change that difference of opinion."

Police Sgt. Gerard Asselin, head of a coalition of the eight city unions, said recent conversations between union representatives and Assembly members haven't left the union leaders feeling the outcome will be "an end product that's going to be helpful. It's more 'We're going to agree to disagree.' "

"I'm just disgusted with the process," firefighters union president Rod Harris said after the Friday work session. He said a majority of the Assembly are "doing the mayor's work."

Here are some of the changes the plan would make to city labor law:

Maximum pay increases: Pay increases would be limited to the five-year average of the Anchorage consumer price index, plus 1 percent.

Pay enhancements: The plan would eliminate performance incentives but existing longevity pay and service recognition programs would be grandfathered in. Pay levels under "Performance Incentive Programs" would be frozen at existing levels at the end of current union contracts.

Benefits: The proposal would standardize benefits programs such as to health, dental, life or disability plans among unions but not retirement or pension plans.

Arbitration: If the city and a union can't agree, they can hand their proposals to an arbitrator. 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.

Managed competition: Union contracts can't stand in the way of a city plan to outsource some city work.