The Anchorage Assembly refused to confirm one of Mayor Dave Bronson’s appointees to the city’s Employee Relations Board after the Alaska AFL-CIO and another union official raised concerns over the man’s actions during his time as president of a local union that led to his removal.
The board oversees resolution of disputes between the city and its union employees, among other responsibilities.
Bronson’s pick for the position, Todd Peplow, had been president of The Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 71, a local chapter representing about 2,500 public employees, including some who work for the Anchorage municipality.
The union removed Peplow from its presidency after an internal conflict over Peplow’s endorsement of Bronson during the city’s mayoral election last year.
Peplow’s endorsement was unauthorized, which was a violation of the union’s constitution, another union official, Jordan Adams, said in a formal statement at the time, clarifying that the union had not endorsed Bronson. Peplow refused to retract his endorsement and called the use of his title in support of Bronson free speech.
Labor unions are often involved in local politics in Anchorage, making donations to campaigns and spending tens of thousands in support of their preferred candidates. The AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the state, has been a key campaign supporter for members of the Assembly majority.
After a heated discussion, the Assembly voted 8-2 against confirming Peplow to the board Tuesday night after hearing testimony from both Adams and Peplow. Members Jamie Allard and Crystal Kennedy, conservatives representing Eagle River, supported the mayor’s appointee. Member Kameron Perez-Verdia was absent.
Assembly member Forrest Dunbar, at one point in the discussion, read aloud a part of a letter to the Assembly opposing Peplow’s appointment from Joelle Hall, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO.
In the letter, Hall said the union is concerned about his “ability to fairly represent labor as well as follow established policies and procedures in doing so” and called his past actions a “blatant violation” of the constitution and bylaws of his former union.
“His violations were so egregious that his own membership chose to remove him from office,” Hall said in the letter. “We don’t take that lightly, and neither should you in the decision-making process for this appointment.”
Adams, in his testimony and in a letter to the city, said he had been alerted by many members of the union about Peplow’s appointment to the board. Those members expressed “concern regarding both rational judgement and accuracy” if Peplow were confirmed into a position that represents working people and makes decisions that affect their employment, he said
Peplow defended himself at the meeting, noting that he was not voted out of the union’s presidency by its entire membership, but during a meeting of a small number of members.
“I spent multiple years in multiple positions on the executive board, and I’m always taking care of the working men and women. And I’ll continue to do so,” Peplow said.
Some Assembly members who voted against Peplow’s confirmation said that his long tenure in labor unions showed he has the necessary experience, but that the concerns raised by union officials were too great to ignore.
“So the bargaining units, my impression is, don’t feel like this person is impartial. And it’s really critical,” Assembly member John Weddleton said. “And maybe he is — I don’t know. Obviously, the resume is pretty spectacular. But if the bargaining units don’t feel like he’s impartial, I think we have a problem because they’re going to make big decisions.”
Allard said Peplow is a man of integrity, calling testimony against him a “character assassination” and “absolutely a political hit from this body and this union.”
Bronson also called statements made against Peplow’s confirmation by the unions and Assembly members a “political hit job” and said Peplow should be confirmed based on his qualifications.
The Assembly voted unanimously to confirm two other Bronson appointees to the Employee Relations Board.
The Assembly majority and Bronson administration have clashed bitterly and engaged in a power struggle over multiple issues beyond this one, including the Assembly’s refusal to confirm a few of the mayor’s other appointees over concerns with their qualifications, and other disputes, from masks to the city budget.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the Alaska AFL-CIO as a union. It is a labor organization that is a federation of over 50 affiliates.