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Tuesday preview: Once again, Anchorage Assembly will grapple with labor ordinance

Sean Doogan
Anchorage Assembly members will also finalize $53 million in municipal bonds destined for the April ballot during Tuesday's meeting at Loussac Library in Midtown Anchorage. Loren Holmes photo

On Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly will again tangle with what to do about controversial labor law changes.  Members will also finalize the mayoral administration's recommendation of $33 million in municipal bonds destined for the April ballot at its meeting at Loussac Library in Midtown Anchorage. But AO-37, known as the "Responsible Labor Act," and a citizens' referendum to overturn it may dominate the meeting, which begins at 5 p.m.

AO-37 passed by a slim 6-5 majority in March. The ordinance would limit raises to 1 percent over the cost of inflation, which is calculated using the Consumer Price Index. It would also limit contracts for the municipality's nine unions to three-year terms while eliminating some performance and seniority bonuses for union municipal workers. The assembly -- not a third-party arbiter -- would have the final say on contract disputes.

Almost as soon as the measure passed, Anchorage labor organizations and municipal unions began trying to repeal it.

By municipal law, an ordinance is suspended when a referendum to modify or overturn it is filed with the city clerk's office. That happened in April. But the city claimed the law was an administrative matter and not subject to a citizen referendum. After months of court wrangling, the unions prevailed on Jan. 10, but the assembly has yet to successfully put the item on the ballot. An attempt to add it to the April 1 ballot was vetoed by Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. The assembly sued, but the courts ruled this month that the mayor's veto will stick.

Section 3.02(b) of the Municipal Charter states that: "A referendum shall be submitted to the voters at a regular or special election held not later than 75 days after certification of the petition. However, the assembly may submit a referendum to the voters at a later regular or special election if the assembly suspends the ordinance until the election."

That means, since no official date has yet been set for the item to appear on a ballot, the assembly must pass an ordinance suspending the law -- even though it is already officially suspended by the submission of the referendum to repeal it. If they do not, union leaders contend, then the clock is ticking, and the matter may require a special election.

Efforts by Assembly member Chris Birch to move the entire election -- the AO-37 referendum, bond questions, as well as Assembly and school board elections -- to coincide with statewide general elections in November, will also be debated Tuesday.

The Anchorage Assembly agenda for Tuesday's meeting has been posted online by the municipality.

Contact Sean Doogan at sean(at)