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Controversial anti-organized labor ordinance under scrutiny by Anchorage Assembly

Sean Doogan

After being squeezed out of the regular meeting of the Anchorage Assembly, supporters of a measure to repeal the city’s controversial new labor law rewrite will again pack the Assembly chambers at the Loussac Library in Midtown Wednesday.  A special Assembly meeting was called for 6 p.m. after testimony about a proposed $10.5 million indoor tennis facility took up most of the Assembly’s time Tuesday night.

Before it became evident that tennis would force their issue back a day, hundreds of supporters of a citizen referendum to overturn AO-37 – the controversial labor ordinance – filled the lobby and aisles of the Assembly chambers, waiting their turn to speak.  Most were easily identified by “Repeal 37” stickers on their shirts, sweaters, and coats.

The labor law rewrite was passed by Assembly members by a close 6-5 margin in March. It would limit raises for city employees, eliminate municipal unions’ ability to strike or force binding arbitration during contract negotiations, and standardize health benefits across all city unions. It was fiercely opposed by unions. The mayor’s office said it would save the city money. Soon after it was passed, though, a coalition of unions gathered enough voter signatures to put a repeal ordinance on the ballot.  

But the city charter doesn’t say when a successful citizen petition must be voted upon -- only that a vote must be conducted “at a later regular or special election.”

There is a municipal election in April 2014, but that date doesn’t seem likely. Assemblywoman Jennifer Johnston submitted a proposal to move the vote on the referendum back to 2015. Johnston said she wanted to maximize turnout and allow time for the city’s appeal of the case to the Alaska Supreme Court.

And the city has sued – saying the labor law ordinance is an administrative matter and, as such, is not subject to a citizen-sponsored recall. An appeals court judge has already ruled against the city, but the Alaska Supreme Court is reviewing that decision. By law, the labor ordinance rewrite won’t be allowed to take effect until the court case is settled, or the repeal ordinance is voted on.

After public testimony wraps up, the Assembly will decide when to allow a citywide vote on the repeal ordinance.

Contact Sean Doogan at sean(at)alaskadispatch.com