Mayor, Assembly To Propose Ordinance Limiting Unions

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan
Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan

Anchorage workers are speaking out after being told the Mayor and Assembly members are proposing an ordinance that would limit the power of unions. Mayor Dan Sullivan is proposing the ordinance along with Assembly Chair Ernie Hall and Vice Chair Jennifer Johnston. The Mayor says he’s just trying deliver of the highest value services at the lowest reasonable cost the citizens of Anchorage, while Union leaders say he’s taking away worker’s rights.

Union leaders say, as it stands now, the proposed ordinance would leave them nothing left to negotiate. They say it will impact benefits, pay and contract negotiations including eliminating the option of a strike. Rod Harris, president of the Anchorage Firefighters Union, which represents about 400 workers, says he was shocked when he found out about the proposed ordinance Friday.

“This is over the top. You know I know the Mayor really wants to address wages and benefits, but he’s gone to great lengths here to make sure that anything to do with working conditions or anything to do with the employee having a voice in their own safety practices has been removed and made a management right. And he’s gone further to say that everything in the city is up for privatization except for anybody that works in a police car or in a fire truck,” Harris said.

Harris was one of many union leaders that met with Mayor Dan Sullivan Monday morning to review the proposed ordinance. It would impact approximately 2,200 municipal employees from accountants to police officers and fire fighters. Union leaders are especially concerned that a quick timeline for the ordinance could limit public input. It’s set to be introduced to the Anchorage assembly at their next regular meeting. Municipal officials say it could be passed by the end of the month. Jason Alward is with Local 301, which represents about 100 workers that plow snow, haul waste to the landfill and maintain streets, among other things. He attended the Monday morning presentation where the Mayor explained proposed changes including that wages would be tied to a 5-year average of the consumer price index.

Assembly Chair Ernie Hall
Assembly Chair Ernie Hall

“Really the only thing left to negotiate is the wages, and even that they have tied that to the 5-year average of the CPI. I don’t know what’s left to negotiate, honestly,” Alward said.

When asked to characterize the Mayor’s leadership style Alward said, “Well in this case, it’s clearly a dictatorship – this is the way it’s gonna be, whether you like it or not.”

Mayor Dan Sullivan says he’s just trying to tighten the purse strings of local government. Cities across the U.S., Sullivan says, are implementing similar changes to implement something he calls, managed competition.

“Often times in managed competition, the employee groups win the bid to perform the service. But when they’re put into a competitive environment, it’s amazing how they sharpen their pencils they know their jobs best of all and they find ways to do it even better and it less cost,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan says a letter is going out to employees regarding the changes, which he’s hoping will be implemented by the assembly in the next couple of weeks. Assembly Chair Ernie Hall says it could take longer though.

“It’s gonna take the time that it takes to get the job done. If we’re able to do it in that timeline, well that’s fine. But it’s gonna take due process,” Hall said.

Hall says negotiations with at least two labor organizations are set to begin in March for contracts that expire in June. The new rules would not affect current contracts, only new ones. The proposed ordinance is set to the assembly on Tuesday, Feb. 12. A public hearing will be held Feb. 26 and the proposed ordinance could be passed at that time.

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Daysha Eaton, KMXT - Kodiak
Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.