City gives 1.5% raises to police, firefighters

Nathaniel Herz

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday unanimously approved 1.5 percent raises for the city police and fire unions for 2014.

The two unions are among the city's largest, numbering about 800 employees total. The raises are in line with increases the Sullivan administration had agreed to with several other unions over the last few months.

Employee Relations Director Nancy Usera said that the city bargained with the unions based on guidelines previously passed by the Anchorage Assembly -- both in 2009, and in 2013, in the form of the controversial labor law known as AO-37, even though the latter is suspended pending the outcome of a referendum to repeal it.

"I think that what we came up with, and what was passed by the Assembly, was evidence of us working collaboratively with the unions," Usera said.

The raises are below the rate of inflation, which was 2.7 percent in Anchorage between June, 2012 and June, 2013, according to federal statistics.

Derek Hsieh, the president of Anchorage's police union, said in an email that about 95 percent of his 465 members voted to approve the city's offer.

The members, he added, "are tired and wanted to have some closure at least with this one issue."

Mike Stumbaugh, the president of the city firefighters union, wouldn't say what proportion of his members voted to approve the wage increase. But, he said the group agreed to the offer since it paralleled raises the city had agreed to with other unions.

"Pretty much everybody else is just getting 1.5, so we just fell in line, made it easier to get it done," he said.

Under the two deals, the city will end up spending an extra $1.5 million on wages in 2014, according to documents submitted to the Assembly by the Sullivan administration.

The agreements between the city and the unions are not new contracts -- the groups' existing contracts, which end Dec. 31, contained a provision calling for the two sides to negotiate wages for 2014.

All other provisions of the contracts remain in place.

Usera said that negotiations with the unions over new contracts would likely begin this spring.

Hsieh said the police union will "develop bargaining priorities over the next few months with surveys and meetings with members."

Stumbaugh said that his union would likely take a tougher negotiating stance, and ask for raises pegged to the rate of inflation, or inflation plus 1 percent -- the ceiling for labor cost increases that's laid out under AO-37, the controversial labor law.

"We're pretty excited to sit down with the mayor and his associates, and see what they come up with," Stumbaugh said.