Papers filed calling for vote to bar city from collecting union dues

Michelle Theriault Boots

A coalition of Anchorage Tea Party and Libertarian groups has filed an application to put a measure on the ballot asking voters to bar the city from deducting union dues directly from employee paychecks.

"The municipality is prohibited from collecting dues and other fees of the exclusive bargaining units," reads the entirety of the handwritten proposed initiative, which was submitted to the city clerk's office Sept. 5.

City workers in unions currently have compulsory dues automatically deducted from their pay checks, a practice known as "dues checkoff."

The petition's signers include conservative radio host Glenn Biegel and Russ Millette, who was ousted from becoming the chairman of the Alaska Republican Party hours before he was supposed to start the job last year.

City attorneys are now vetting the application to make sure what's being proposed is legally sound enough to go up for a public vote. They have until Sept. 15 to complete the job.

The analysis is supposed to be purely on legal points and not tied to politics, said municipal attorney Dennis Wheeler. If city attorneys give their go-ahead, sponsors will then have 90 days to gather 7,124 signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot, said deputy city clerk Amanda Moser.

The move comes as unions gather signatures to fend off what they see as a major attack on city workers, Anchorage Ordinance 37. The controversial ordinance, which the Assembly passed in March by a slim margin, stripped power from the eight city unions by removing the right to strike, banning performance bonuses and outsourcing some work done by city employees to private companies.

Voters could potentially decide on the two issues side-by-side in April's election.

The new measure isn't tied to the labor ordinance except in the broadest philosophical terms, said Michael Chambers, a spokesman for the loose coalition of Tea Party and Libertarian groups backing it.

Chambers, an artist, Libertarian activist and former Delta Junction schoolteacher, said the city should stop using its resources to in effect collect money for unions which largely back Democratic political candidates.

It's a matter of personal liberty, he said.

"What it basically does is takes the city out of the business of using municipal funds to support a particular partisan group," he said.

The idea originally came from the Anchorage Tea Party, which combined forces with the Alaska Libertarian Party and other like-minded groups, Chambers said.

Brian Murphy, a spokesman for International Association of Firefighters Local 1264, said the union was waiting to comment until getting legal advice from the municipal attorney on whether the petition can even go forward.

"We're not clear right now with how poorly written the document was exactly what they are seeking," he said. "Hopefully, the municipal attorney will clarify it."

Anchorage residents are using the initiative and referendum process as a way to directly tackle ideas ranging from changing the date of city elections to building a new park in Girdwood, said city attorney Dennis Wheeler. And they're using it more often. Last year 20 applications were turned in, he said.

Most don't get past the legal screening because they were confusing and poorly written or violate city charter, Wheeler said.

If the city attorney decides that the proposal is flawed, the groups have a chance to rewrite it, Wheeler said.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.