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Our View: Let Anchorage vote on labor law repeal

Let voters decide

Test labor law's support at the ballot box

Mayor Dan Sullivan should accept the decision of Superior Court Eric Aarseth and let city unions' bid to repeal his labor ordinance go to the voters.

Earlier this month, Aarseth ruled in favor of the unions, concluding that the labor ordinance was sweeping and broad enough to constitute a change in the law and thus was subject to a referendum vote of the people.

The city had argued that the labor ordinance fell mostly within the administrative and technical realm and was therefore not subject to popular vote.

Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler conceded that parts of the ordinance might qualify for a referendum, and that the city would not have rejected the unions' petition had they limited their repeal to just those parts.

But as the unions' attorney Susan Orlansky pointed out, a referendum to repeal is an all or nothing deal.

The city can appeal the Superior Court decision to the Alaska Supreme Court. But the mayor has said he wouldn't be troubled by a vote of the people of Anchorage.

So let's have it -- provided the unions can get the 7,000-plus signatures required to place the issue on the ballot. Both sides say that won't be a problem.

The labor ordinance (AO 37) is by any definition more than just housekeeping. By the administration's own admission and stated purpose, it's a change in the balance of collective bargaining, taking much off the table and giving management more control, putting limits on raises, bonuses, issues subject to bargaining, binding arbitration and the right to strike.

Rather than let lawyers debate the gray areas of the ordinance before the Supreme Court, let the citizens of Anchorage -- who pick up the tab -- make this call. Sullivan has said he thinks he will win. The unions took heart in the results of the April 2013 election -- in which the major issue was the Assembly's 6-5 passage of the new labor law and the closed-door process of the law's making in the months before it saw the light of public introduction.

Such a campaign will be volatile. The issue is not only bargaining terms but political power, ideology and fair play. Add to the mix that there's no trust between the mayor and the city's unions, which even without the labor ordinance makes for bad relations. Until the question of this labor ordinance is resolved, there's no basis for the kind of recent, reasonable agreement struck between the teachers union and the Anchorage School District.

The courts might settle the legal issues, but the voters can provide resolution.

BOTTOM LINE: Let voters decide on labor ordinance.