Mayor Sullivan Rejects Union Offer

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

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan has rejected an offer to freeze wages of city workers for one year in exchange for tabling a controversial ordinance that would limit unions. KSKA’s Daysha Eaton has the story.

In the past, Mayor Dan Sullivan has said the changes his ordinance would make are needed to keep costs down, and the ordinance must be rushed because of upcoming union negotiations. But now he says there are bigger goals. In a 2-page letter sent to union leaders via email Wednesday, Mayor Dan Sullivan said he couldn’t take the offer made by 5 of the 8 unions, because, for him, it’s about more than money.

“It’s about revising the way that we negotiate contracts in the future to make sure that they’re standardized, that they’re easier to both understand and to implement and that they’re fair to the employees and as importantly, to the citizens who pay for public services.”

Union supporters rally in protest of AO37 outside an Assembly meeting in February.
Union supporters rally in protest of AO37 outside an Assembly meeting in February.

Sullivan says he wants his administration and future administrations to have more control over workers. He proposed the ordinance February 8th. It would limit longevity and performance pay, benefits, and eliminate binding arbitration along with strikes. It would also allow some municipal jobs to be contracted out. Last Friday, unions leaders representing about 22-hundred municipal employees offered to delay the expiration of contracts in exchange for tabling of the ordinance. Monday, despite warnings from the ACLU of Alaska, the Assembly ended public testimony on the issue after 285 people had testified against the ordinance over four evenings. Sullivan says he supports the assembly’s decision and he did not accept the union’s offer because:

“I didn’t see any real reason to go with that. We’re more than willing to negotiate the contracts that are coming up on the current time schedule and we want to do so under the rules that are being considered by the assembly. I’m not sure what it would have accomplished. We think the ordinance is ready to go, there will be some miner amendments going forward, we didn’t see any reason to delay for a year.”

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan
Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan

Union supporters have compared the changes that Sullivan’s ordinance would make to to labor reform that took place in Wisconsin. Sullivan says his proposal is different because it does not eliminate collective bargaining. He says workers can still negotiate things like how much they get for education enhancements, clothing allowances and tool allowances. Jillanne Inglis is Vice President of the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association. She represents city government workers from clerks to engineers. She has worked for city for municipality for 17 years. She says she’s disappointed with the Mayor’s response and She says it shows that he does not want to work with unions.

“I’m feeling that the Mayor does not want to have a good piece of legislation, really. It takes time. And we offered to take the time and to sit down at the table with him. This has been our experience for the last four years. We try to make an offer and work with him and he rejects it or he’s not interested in it. For him, it’s philosophical. He does not like unions.”

Sullivan denies that he doesn’t like unions and says he just wants to narrow the parameters of negotiation. Sergeant Gerard Asselin with the Anchorage Police Department Employee Association says the ordinance narrows the parameters so much that it leaves little to be negotiated. And he says it’s being fast-tracked for a reason.

“The stars have aligned for the administration. He’s pretty confident, as he has said from the beginning, he has the votes.”

Asselin says It’s no coincidence that Attorney’s started crafting the ordinance in secret last summer, but waited to make it public until February. Asselin says he believes that the majority of people who live in Anchorage do not support the Mayor’s proposal.

“So, what recourse are we left with other than to try to engage the community and if that comes in the form of the polls on April 2nd, then I’d say, that’s what we need to do.”

A work session on the ordinance is scheduled for Friday, March 22nd at City hall.
The Assembly is scheduled to take action on the ordinance Tuesday, March 26th.

March 8th Letter from Unions to Mayor Sullivan (PDF)

March 13th Letter from Mayor Sullivan to Unions (PDF)

Version of AO37 as of March 15th (PDF)

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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.

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