Vote on Anchorage Labor Law Set for November Ballot

A tense moment during an at ease after at Wednesday's public hearing  about when to hold a vote whether a controversial labor ordinance should be overturned.
A tense moment last year at public hearing about when to hold a vote on a controversial labor ordinance.

The Anchorage Assembly finally set a date for a vote on a referendum that would repeal a controversial labor law Tuesday night. It won’t happen until fall.

Voters will finally be able to cast ballots on a referendum that would repeal a controversial labor law, but not any time soon. That was the decision of the Anchorage Assembly Tuesday night.

“The body ended up setting another date for the referendum which will be with the regular municipal election in November,” Assembly Chair Ernie Hall said.

The Assembly voted in October to put the referendum on the April Municipal Election ballot, but Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed their decision.

Then the date for a vote was up in the air because of two court cases surrounding the labor law, one which went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Assembly passed the law, also known as ‘the responsible labor act’ or AO-37, last March despite protests. It takes away municipal workers right to strike and restricts collective bargaining rights.

It would affect more than 2,000 city employees. The labor law will be suspended until after the vote. Some Assembly members, including Dick Traini, argued that the city charter required a vote be held within 75 days of the most recent court decision.

Traini was not pleased that the vote was being put off until November.

“It’s a mistake by the body,” he said. “The six that decided to ignore the 22,000 people that requested the vote on AO-37. You know when those people signed their names they anticipated voting expeditiously on that thing. And you know it’s not going to help the people that want to keep AO-37 because those 22,000 people are going to grow. In November, they will repeal that critter.”

The Assembly voted 6-5 to put the referendum on the November ballot. Those in favor argued there would be higher voter turnout. Chris Birch, Jennifer Johnston, Ernie Hall, Adam Trombley, Amy Demboski, and Bill Starr voted for it. Critics said it was a move to slow down momentum for the repeal.  Traini, Tim Steele, Elvi Gray-Jackson, Paul Honeman, and Patrick Flynn voted against.

Another ordinance was introduced at Tuesday’s meeting that would change the entire municipal election from April to November. That would not go into effect until 2017. Public testimony will be taken on that issue on Feb. 25.