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Anchorage agrees on new contract with city employee union

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 23, 2015

The administration of Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has reached a tentative deal on a new contract with the city's largest employees union.

The contract with the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association, which was ratified by union members on Dec. 8, is the first negotiated by the Berkowitz administration. Key provisions include annual raises of 1.5 percent over the next three years and a change in how the city calculates its share of paying increased medical costs.

Under the proposed agreement, the city will revert to paying 60 percent of future increases in health care costs. Employees will pay 40 percent. Under the previous contract, the city's share was based on medical inflation, a change negotiated by former Mayor Dan Sullivan's administration.

Karen Turner, director of employee relations, said the medical cost to the city in 2016 will be virtually unchanged as a result of the new calculation.

When it comes to overtime, the new contract also bases seniority on worker classification rather than time spent in an individual department. It requires 15-minute breaks for part-time workers and for the first time allows union members to make voluntary contributions to the union's political action committee in the form of a payroll deduction.

"We just want to make sure we're treating employees with respect, compensating fairly and also make sure we're protecting taxpayers' interests," Turner said in an interview. "We think we've achieved that with this contract, and plan to with future contracts."

The union has about 500 members and is the city's largest. President Dana Norris said in an interview that the union is pleased with the contract, which would expire in 2018.

"We didn't lose anything; that was a big deal for us," Norris said. "We were able to maintain everything we had."

Norris said the union made larger concessions in negotiations with the Sullivan administration, specifically on seniority and overtime, and on the split in medical benefits. She said the union sought a return to a 60-40 split because medical inflation is unpredictable and more difficult to calculate.

Some members were a bit disappointed with the size of the raise, but others were "ecstatic," Norris said. She said the structure of the raises is identical to what AMEA received in its previous contract.

Through its political action committee, the AMEA donated $1,000 to Berkowitz's campaign in the May runoff, according to state campaign finance filings. Berkowitz generally received strong support from unions, including the local police and fire unions, and received campaign contributions from more than a dozen union-affiliated PACs.

The proposed AMEA contract increases the city's direct labor costs an average of about $814,000 a year over its three-year term, or an average of 1.83 percent, according to a memo submitted to the Assembly. The five-year average inflation rate is 2.38 percent annually, according to the memo.

The contract was introduced at Tuesday's Anchorage Assembly meeting. The Assembly will have 30 days to review the document before taking a vote.

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