Unions say they have enough signatures to put labor ordinance on ballot

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage's municipal unions say they've collected enough signatures to give the public the last word in the months-long battle over the city's controversial new labor ordinance.

On Monday the unions plan to deliver more than the necessary 7,124 petition signatures to City Hall to place a repeal of the ordinance on the ballot, said Gerard Asselin, the chairman of the Coalition of Municipal Unions.

"We are certain that we will exceed that 7,124," Asselin said in an interview Friday. He wouldn't say how many signatures had been collected.

The ordinance, which passed in March, was vehemently opposed by the municipal unions as it worked its way through the Anchorage Assembly with the backing of Mayor Dan Sullivan.

The ordinance curtails the unions' right to strike, limits annual raises and restricts incentive pay and bonuses in future contracts.

Once the clerk's office checks the validity of the signatures, the ordinance becomes suspended, and the charter says the city has 75 days to hold an election on the question. Or the Assembly could decide to put the referendum on a later election ballot such as April's regular city election.

Almost immediately after the measure passed the Assembly, the unions launched an effort to try to repeal it through a referendum.

The referendum application was initially denied by the city's clerk based on recommendations from city attorneys, who said that the law was "administrative" rather than "legislative," and too technical and complicated an issue for voters to consider.

The unions took their case to court, and in August Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth ruled that the law was, in fact, legislative and could be the subject of a referendum. He ordered the city to allow the unions to start circulating petitions.

The city is still considering whether to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, which could overturn Aarseth's ruling.

Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler said last week that he had not made a decision on the appeal.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.