Anchorage labor law heads to ballot box after failed veto override try

Anchorage's contentious labor law is now officially in the hands of voters.

During a brief meeting Tuesday night, the Anchorage Assembly could not muster the votes required to override Mayor Dan Sullivan's Monday veto of a revised version of the labor law, also known as Anchorage Ordinance 37.

The vote was 7-4, with the Assembly needing eight votes to override the veto and avoid a referendum in November. No Assembly members changed their positions from last week's votes to repeal AO 37 and substitute a new version. Amy Demboski, Bill Evans, Ernie Hall and Jennifer Johnston were the four "no" votes.

The meeting lasted about two minutes, and there was no discussion. A handful of labor leaders were present. Sullivan was not.

This is the second time since the law was introduced in February 2013 that the Assembly has voted for repeal, been met with a veto by Sullivan, and failed to override the veto.

"Now it's up to the voters," Assembly member Dick Traini said after the meeting.

At a press conference Monday announcing his veto decision, Sullivan said the substitute version of the law passed by the Assembly, which included amendments requested by union representatives, "doesn't even resemble a compromise." The law has become a signature piece of Sullivan's administration.


Also known as the Responsible Labor Act, the original law will now appear as a referendum item on the state general election ballot in November, along with other high-profile issues including a competition for one of Alaska's U.S. Senate seats, a minimum wage increase and marijuana legalization.

Placing the measure on the state ballot comes at minimal cost to the municipality and avoids the $460,000 price of a special parallel election, officials said. At its meeting last week, the Assembly re-appropriated $400,000 of the funds originally set for the special election to the Anchorage Fire Department for the purpose of increasing paramedic staffing.

Anchorage pollster Marc Hellenthal, of Hellenthal and Associates, said polling data collected for the April municipal election showed the public opposing the labor law.

Hellenthal's results, among 403 likely Anchorage voters, found 50.8 opposed, 35.5 in favor and 13.7 unsure, with a margin of error of 4.88 percent. The data were collected in early January.

Hellenthal said his company plans to poll again now that the measure is headed to the ballot. But during the April election, the law brought more pro-labor voters to the polls, which cost conservative candidates, Hellenthal said.

"AO 37 has been the very best device that's come up in recent history for the Democrats," Hellenthal said.

Sullivan's office is barred from using municipal resources to advocate for or against the law. But Sullivan said at Monday's press conference that he could run a "factual campaign" and provide information to voters.

Last year, Sullivan's office produced a radio ad that featured the mayor talking about the law's benefits.

Joelle Hall, operations manager for the AFL-CIO, the state's largest labor organization, said the referendum joins a broader list of issues energizing Alaska labor activists on the November ballot.

"We are already embarking on the largest mobilization of our members we've ever had," Hall said. "This will dovetail nicely with the programs we're already working on."

Hall said union members plan to discuss Anchorage's labor law at the AFL-CIO state convention in Fairbanks next week.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.