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City rules against Tea Party effort to bar collection of union dues

Lisa Demer

A Tea Party-led effort to bar the city from collecting union dues is flawed and can't go forward, the city ruled on Monday.

One of the lead sponsors, Katherine Hicks of Anchorage, added to the handwritten application for a voter initiative while at City Hall, changing it from what voters signed, and the subject matter is too narrow to bring before voters, according to an analysis by deputy municipal attorney Dee Ennis.

"A change in payroll collection represents a small segment of the current overall labor management policy which provides for mandatory payment of dues by union employees," Ennis wrote in a memorandum dated Monday. Barring the city from collecting dues isn't a new or significant enough change in labor policy to bring to voters, she wrote.

Reached Monday evening, Hicks said she hadn't seen the decision but expected the group would rewrite the proposal and try again. Hicks, a registered Republican who is active in the Anchorage Tea Party, said the voter initiative was put together at a Tea Party meeting that included other groups, including Libertarians and the Municipal Taxpayers League of Anchorage.

"When we talked about it, it was just going to be a baby step," Hicks said. She described herself as "just a fed-up taxpayer."

The petition proposed changing existing law to say "the municipality is prohibited from collecting dues and other fees of the exclusive bargaining units."

After Hicks submitted an application for the initiative petition on Sept. 5, Deputy Municipal Clerk Amanda Moser noticed that the proposal said "see attached" but did not include the attachment. Moser flagged down Hicks at the elevator.

"Ms. Hicks came back into the Clerk's Office, looked through a folder and pulled out a piece of paper," Moser said in a sworn statement included with the city attorney memorandum. "She then crossed out something on the paper and handwrote something near the bottom of the paper before handing the paper back to me."

Currently, city workers in unions have dues automatically deducted in a process known as "dues checkoff."

The forgotten attachment, which was typed, was changed on the spot. It included the language in current law providing for the "dues checkoff" and also replacement language that said the employee is responsible for paying union dues. Hicks crossed that out and wrote "wording changed to agree with Proposed Petition."

That means the petition application signed by the two sponsors and 13 other voters didn't match the version that was filed, Ennis wrote. Applications for voter initiatives must be backed by two sponsors and 10 voters before the real signature gathering begins. Besides Hicks, other signers included conservative radio host Glenn Biegel and Russ Millette, who was ousted from becoming chairman of the Alaska Republican Party just before he was supposed to take office.

The more substantial flaw in the application concerns the focus on what is essentially an accounting function, Ennis said in an interview. Court rulings have laid out that voter initiatives must concern legislative and policy matters, not narrow administrative ones, she said.

Union leaders weren't sure what to make of the proposal to ban city collection of dues. But if it went before voters and passed, it would complicate the work of unions, said Gerard Asselin, a police patrol sergeant who is president of the Coalition of Municipal Unions.

Hicks acknowledged the filing was sloppily done but said she just changed the attachment to match the petition language.

Her group won't give up, she said.

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

 


By LISA DEMER
ldemer@adn.com
Contact Lisa Demer at LDemer@adn.com or on