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Assembly OKs compromise labor law; referendum still in question

Devin Kelly

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday night voted 7-4 to repeal the city’s divisive labor law, also known as AO-37.

In its place, the Assembly immediately passed an amended version of the law that included elements more favorable to union members. It remains uncertain whether the measure will be met with a veto from Mayor Dan Sullivan.

A compromise measure was first proposed several months ago by Assembly member Jennifer Johnston, who did not support the version that ultimately passed.

The vote on the compromise measure also was 7-4, with the yes votes falling one short of the number required to override a mayoral veto. Bill Starr, Pete Peterson, Elvi Gray-Jackson, Patrick Flynn, Dick Traini, Tim Steele and Paul Honeman voted in favor and Amy Demboski, Bill Evans, Ernie Hall and Johnston voted against.

No Assembly members changed their votes for the compromise.  

The compromise measure now heads to the desk of the mayor, who pushed the passage of the original labor law. If he vetoes it and the Assembly doesn't override the veto, a referendum on the original law will appear on the November ballot.

Sullivan said after the meeting Tuesday he and members of his administration will spend the rest of the week examining the measure.

“We’re going to take some thought on it,” Sullivan said. “See if we feel this is something we can live with.”

Sullivan has seven days to issue a veto. He said he expects to make a decision by the end of the week.

Assembly Chair Patrick Flynn said after the vote that he has tentatively scheduled a special meeting for next Tuesday to respond to any administrative action taken by Sullivan.

The original proposal from Johnston, referred to by labor leaders as "AO-37 lite," omitted certain provisions in the original law, including the elimination of unions’ right to strike. Union representatives agreed to all but three of Johnston's changes; they objected to elements that they take collective bargaining rights away from some members and give the city authority over equipment, staffing and scheduling.

Last week, the Anchorage Coalition of Unions brought forward three compromise amendments on the sticking points.

During the crowded, tense meeting Tuesday night, Traini and Gray-Jackson introduced a version incorporating the three amendments. That was the version that ultimately passed.

With a last-minute concession by union representatives hoping to gain eight Assembly votes in favor of the compromise, the approved version of the measure shifted overtime scheduling to a rotating basis, replacing the old system of tying it to seniority.

The meeting drew a range of testimony from union members, the majority representing the Anchorage Police Department. People lined the back wall of the Assembly chambers and wore stickers that read “Repeal 37.”

Gerard Asselin, president of the Anchorage Coalition of Unions and a sergeant with the Anchorage Police Department, called the vote “mostly a win.”

“Now it’s up to the mayor,” he said.

But he and other union leaders expressed disappointment that the compromise measure did not gain the critical eight Assembly votes.

All 11 members of the Assembly, including chairman Flynn, spoke before the vote, some at more length than others. Those in favor, like Traini and Steele, generally said they wanted to put the labor debate in the past and repair damaged trust in the labor community.

Hall said his “no” vote was based on the observation that recently negotiated municipal contracts have included elements of AO-37, which Sullivan also pointed to as a reason to uphold the original law. Demboski and Evans, who both ran in support of AO-37, said they did not want to back down on campaign promises.

Johnston said earlier in the day that she would not support a version of her measure that included the three amendments proposed by the unions last week. 

Besides ending the right to strike, the original, sweeping rewrite of the city labor law also included provisions limiting annual pay raises and outsourcing union jobs, and instantly became a flash point in labor relations. It was narrowly approved by the Assembly in March 2013.

Nearly a year and a half later, the law has been through two court cases and a campaign for repeal that garnered more than 20,000 signatures for the referendum on the November ballot.

The Assembly has until Aug. 18 to ask the state to remove the referendum from the ballot.