City, unions ask Supreme Court for quick decision on labor law vote

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage's municipal attorney and a coalition of city unions have jointly asked the Alaska Supreme Court for a quick decision on the contentious case involving the city's new labor law.

In a joint motion filed Friday, the two sides asked the Supreme Court to issue a decision in late January, which they say would give the city clerk enough time to prepare ballots for a referendum on the law as part of Anchorage's regular election in April.

The unions have already gathered enough signatures to force the city to hold a referendum on the law, but its supporters on the Anchorage Assembly have submitted a proposal to push back a vote as April, 2015.

The supporters said they wanted to wait until they had a decision from the Supreme Court on an appeal filed by the city, which could proclaim the referendum effort invalid. The case stems from a dispute over whether the labor law is too narrow and technical an issue to be considered by voters.

The delay is permitted under the city charter, as long as the Assembly votes to prolong a suspension of the ordinance that began in September when the unions turned in their referendum petitions.

Anchorage's unions want the referendum on the ballot in April of 2014.

"The community wants to vote on this; city workers whose livelihoods depend on the outcome of this ordinance deserve to vote on this. It's time to put an end to the wait," Gerard Asselin, the president of the union coalition, said in a written statement.

But Jennifer Johnston, one of the Assembly members who sponsored the proposal to delay a vote, said that she was still considering the move. She said that the proposal was not just designed to wait out the Supreme Court -- it was also intended to allow the referendum to be scheduled on a date that would maximize voter turnout.

"I've got to weight that," she said.

Johnston said she would make her decision by the Assembly's next meeting on Oct. 8, when it will hear public testimony on her proposal, and on another proposal to schedule the referendum this coming April.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at or 257-4311.