Supreme Court Okay’s Referendum Repealing Controversial Labor Law

The Supreme Court of Alaska has ruled that a referendum launched by union supporters to repeal a controversial Anchorage labor ordinance can go ahead.

The Justices made their decision in just two days. The referendum allows voters to decide whether the labor ordinance, named the Responsible Labor Act or better known as A0-37 should be repealed. Andy Holleman, with the Anchorage Education Association, says the ruling was no surprise.

“Certainly we didn’t expect it to come back this quick, but I think that speaks to the legal simplicity of the case,” Holleman said. “This really isn’t something that never should have gone to court. The city had to contrive a case here. The right of people to bring a referendum is pretty clear cut.”

Despite protests, the Assembly passed the labor law last March. The ordinance takes away municipal workers right to strike and restricts collective bargaining rights. It affects more than 2,000 city employees. The administration of Mayor Dan Sullivan has already negotiated a handful of union contracts under the law. Gerard Asselin is with the Anchorage Police Employees Union. He says the Justice’s decision allows labor supporters to begin focusing on the upcoming election.

“It’s pretty exciting that we can move on with what we’re trying to accomplish,” Asselin said. “At this point we’re preparing to have this on the April ballot, getting kinda things in place to educate those who are going to show up in April to vote on this issue.”

Whether the issue will be on the April Ballot is still up for consideration. Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler says he’s disappointed, but not surprised, by the ruling.

Since the introduction of the ordinance, signs expressing support for unions have popped up in Anchorage
Since the introduction of the ordinance, signs expressing support for unions have popped up in Anchorage

“While I always understood that this was a difficult argument to prevail on I thought it was a worthwhile one and we needed that resolved so that next year and the year after when we get more of these referendum on labor issues we have some guidance on how to handle them,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler says the court case cost the municipality around $70000 and labor supporters estimate they’ve spend at least that much. At their next regular meeting on Tuesday, Assembly members will be weighing whether to move the April Election to November, which could delay a vote on the referendum. An opinion from the Supreme Court Justices on the case is forthcoming.

Another court case will decide whether Mayor Sullivan has the power to veto an ordinance that sets an election date for the Referendum. In November he vetoed a decision by the Anchorage Assembly to place the referendum on the April Municipal election ballot.