Anchorage labor law battle nearing an end…maybe

The Anchorage Assembly and municipal unions might be close to a compromise on the city’s labor laws. The groups met for their final work session on Friday to discuss Assembly member Jennifer Johnston’s proposed labor ordinance.

After two months of conversations, Assembly member Johnston and the municipality’s unions have agreed on nearly 50 proposed revisions to the city’s original labor law. It’s Johnston’s alternative to the controversial AO-37, which was suspended last September.

But Gerard Asselin with the Coalition of Municipal Unions says three major sticking points remain.

“We feel that these are areas that need to be addressed and need to be clarified before there would be support of the collected unions to make the modifications.”

Asselin says the unions disagree with Johnston’s definitions of supervisory and confidential employees because they could remove some people from their bargaining units. They object to other language that could allow the Assembly to reassess a negotiated contract if it differs from standard personnel regulations.

The third disagreement revolves around management rights–should the administration have control over employee scheduling and equipment choice? Asselin says no.

“They would have the ability to tell us, for example, what are your hours, what days off you have, how are your shift assignments given, something as simple as, I want to take vacation next week, they’re saying that we as employees shouldn’t have input in that,” he explained. “And we’re saying and our employees are saying, that’s just not acceptable.”

But Johnston says her proposed changes are not intended to take away decision-making powers from the unions. She says she just wants the Assembly to be aware that if something goes wrong, the problem is in their hands because the municipality is self-insured.

“The unions aren’t at risk for bad decisions. The city has the full financial liability. And I just want whoever the mayor is and who ever the administration and whoever the assembly to be aware of.”

Johnston says she sees many of her proposals, especially the definitions of employee types, as compromises. She has modified the ordinance since meeting with the community on Monday.

“What I’m trying to craft is something where the municipality is working with the unions, but not for the unions, and that’s a huge distinction,” she said.

The unions say that the old ordinance worked for 20 years, so why change it?

On Tuesday night the full Assembly will vote on Johnston’s ordinance. She says if she doesn’t think she’ll have eight votes or that there will be a public filibuster, she will drop her proposal. They will also vote on a repeal of AO-37. If it fails it will go to the ballot in November.