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Unions seek vote to repeal new Anchorage city labor ordinance

Anchorage union leaders are launching a referendum drive to try to kill the city's just-passed rewrite of the city labor law, a spokesman for a coalition of city unions said Wednesday.

"We are stepping forward in response to what we're hearing from the community and our members," said Anchorage police Sgt. Gerard Asselin, head of the coalition.

Just filing the roughly 7,200 required signatures for the referendum with the city clerk's office in a timely way would require the city to suspend the ordinance, Asselin said.

It's not just city unions backing the referendum, but other representatives of organized labor, too, Asselin said.

Andy Holleman, Anchorage teachers union president, said he is one of two people signing as sponsors of the referendum petition. The teachers union is not affected directly by the revised city labor law. But, he said, "We don't agree with the process that's been used to make these changes. We depend on the process where we're free to bargain anything not prohibited by state law."

The city labor ordinance, sponsored by Mayor Dan Sullivan and two Assembly leaders, stripped power from the eight city unions. It removed the right to strike, limited annual pay increases, outlawed performances bonuses or incentives in future contracts and sets up a system for outsourcing some work done by city employees.

Sullivan said the old labor law was out of date, and said that he wanted to make union negotiations more efficient.

Sullivan was in Juneau Wednesday, and could not be reached for immediate comment on the referendum.

The Assembly approved the ordinance, AO 2013-37, on March 26 on a 6-5 vote. In weeks before the vote, the Assembly held four public hearings and heard from 285 people, nearly all of them opposed to the plan. More people were waiting to speak, but the Assembly voted to end the hearings.

The effort to repeal it is "a collaborative process from organized labor as a whole rather than just city unions," Asselin said.

For example, the Alaska State Employees Association, the union for some 8,500 state employees statewide, will work on getting signatures, said ASEA executive director Jim Duncan.

"We'll be involved every way we can, collecting signatures, going door to door," Duncan said.

Vince Beltrami, president of the AFL-CIO statewide federation of unions, said, "We're going to do everything we can do to help."

The AFL-CIO is the state's largest labor organization, representing 50,000 workers statewide, Beltrami said.

The Anchorage city charter says that if a referendum petition with enough signatures is filed with the city clerk within 60 days of a law's enactment, the ordinance would be suspended until an electionon whether to repeal the law.

The first step is filing the petition language with the city clerk so the clerk's office and city attorney can review it, Asselin said.

That happened Wednesday, according to city clerk Barbara Jones.

The clerk's office has 10 days to respond.

If the petition is cleared, the backers must collect signatures of voters equalling 10 percent of the turnout at the last mayoral election -- in this case, about 7,200 signatures of voters registered in Anchorage.

Once the clerk's office checks the validity of the signatures, the charter says the city has 75 days to hold an election on the question. Or the Assembly could decide to put the referendum on a later election ballot, if it suspends the law in question until the election.

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.