Unions determined to defeat Anchorage's controversial labor law at the ballot box in November have launched a campaign marked by heavy advertising spending.
The No on 1 - Repeal 37 campaign recently purchased $300,000 in radio advertising, according to a Sept. 4 filing with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
"It's going to be tight in this market because of all the other races," said Gerard Asselin, president of the Anchorage Coalition of Unions and an Anchorage police sergeant. "So we made the decision up front to buy as much radio as we could."
Another $13,000 has been spent to run ads on People Mover buses. The ads, which began running Monday and will stay up until Oct. 5, feature the slogan "Keep Anchorage Safe" above the words "No on 1" and "Repeal AO-37."
The funds come out of a pool of money that had reached $380,000 at the time of the latest APOC filing. The filing showed the city police union had contributed $250,000, which Asselin, who is also treasurer of the union, said came strictly out of union dues.
"Obviously, more will be coming," Asselin said, though he did not say how much more.
The firefighters union contributed the other $130,000, according to the APOC filing, which a union representative said was a combination of dues and private donations.
Other city unions are also jumping into the funding mix. Jillanne Inglis, vice president of the Anchorage Municipal Employees Union, said the union will soon be mailing a check to the campaign. She said the amount will be made public next week.
Those funds do not reflect the hundreds of thousands already spent by unions to bring the measure to the ballot as a referendum.
The measure will be included on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
So far, the campaign is shaping up to be a one-sided one. No major public efforts have yet emerged in support of the law, also known as AO-37 or the Responsible Labor Act. The measure has been through two separate court cases, and a compromise version of the law failed to survive a repeal by Mayor Dan Sullivan last month.
Perhaps the most prominent defender of the law, Sullivan spearheaded the introduction of the measure in February 2013. The mayor is barred by city ethics code from advocating for or against the ballot measure.
But Sullivan said in a Tuesday interview that he is talking internally with his staff about ways to run an "informational campaign" to educate voters about the provisions of the law. Last year, when the law was introduced, Sullivan's office produced a radio spot talking about the benefits of the law.
Sullivan said he was surprised to learn of the amount spent so far by unions to defeat the ballot measure, money he said he'd rather see spent on youth sports or other community programs.
"Boy, that's a lot of money for a campaign against a law that is proven to be effective," he said.
As he has in recent months, Sullivan pointed to the successful negotiation of contracts with seven of the nine municipal bargaining units in the last six months. While the law itself is suspended, the contracts included provisions of AO-37, Sullivan said.
But the city is only just beginning negotiations with police and fire unions, both major forces behind efforts to defeat the law. Those unions vehemently oppose provisions in the law that they say would give management authority over scheduling and staffing decisions, and make changes to the collective bargaining and binding arbitration process.
Justin Cramer, executive board member of the firefighter union, IAFF Local 1264, acknowledged that unions are spending heavily on the campaign, and it could be an expensive fight.
But he said that's a symptom of the political climate and a noisy November ballot that includes high-profile races like a federal Senate election, and issues like marijuana legalization and a proposal to increase the minimum wage.
"We'll spend money toward this fight," Cramer said. "But we realize the political situation we're in. ... it's not won with money. We can't compete."
Of the amount spent so far by unions, Anchorage-based consultant and pollster Marc Hellenthal said that "normally speaking, that would be a lot to anybody."
But he also pointed to the political climate and the frenzied competition for voters' attention before November.
"The rates are just outlandish," he said.
Cramer added that the firefighter union's roughly 340 members will also be mobilizing to get the word out through friends and neighbors.
Leaving little else to chance, the Repeal 37 campaign is enlisting the help of two seasoned Alaska public safety officials to guide efforts and boost the campaign's public profile.
Walt Monegan, former Anchorage police chief and Alaska Public Safety Commissioner, and Craig Goodrich, former state fire marshal and Anchorage fire chief, are jointly chairing a five-person campaign committee. The two men share long records of administrative experience as well as union involvement.
Monegan said he agreed to co-chair the campaign committee because he "fundamentally disagree(s)" with AO-37, "not only in content but in process, in how it was done."
"I think the biggest liability in this is a long-term effect on the destruction of morale, and our abilities to retain and recruit," Monegan, who retired in January as president of the Alaska Native Justice Center, said in an interview.
Goodrich, who retired as fire chief in 2009, said he offered his assistance to the union last year after following the labor law.
He compared the Repeal 37 campaign to the union effort to gain collective bargaining with binding arbitration in the 1970s.
"I've been down this road on several occasions," Goodrich said.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Jillanne Inglis' name.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing