City union members packed an Anchorage Assembly work session Friday afternoon with hopes that many of their questions about a proposed re-write to city labor laws would be answered.
The ordinance was introduced on Monday by Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan and assembly leaders Ernie Hall and Jennifer Johnston who say it is time to update the current code. The proposed re-write would weaken the power of labor unions that have contracts with the city, and shift some of that power to the assembly. It would change the way city workers negotiate contracts and would eliminate "right to strike" and binding arbitration. Instead, any kind of stalemate in contract negotiations would go through a different process and if an agreement cannot be reached, the assembly would settle the dispute.
"We’re trying to streamline all that out so we have a consistent set of rules regarding how we manage our workforce," said Mayor Sullivan at the work session.
Union representatives say they are concerned about the proposed changes and some were angered to hear about the tight timeline the assembly has to make a decision.
"This is a slap in the face to public employees," said Jillanne Inglis, vice president of the Anchorage Municipal Employees Assoc. "The process is ramming it down the throats. They’re making a decision about a major part of an ordinance and they’re trying to do it within two weeks."
During the work session, a few assembly members had questions for William Earnhart, the assistant municipal attorney who presented the details of the proposed revisions. Anchorage assembly-member Elvi Gray-Jackson said she wants to see clear language in the code that says the mayor would not have veto power over contract decisions made by the assembly. Questions were asked about managed competition, which would allow the city to hire the private sector for public work. Sullivan pointed to its success in other cities, such as Seattle.
"It has built-in efficiencies and effectiveness by having the public employees compete with the private sector and for the most part they’ve found that public employees provide the service more effectively and efficiently," said Johnston.
"We don’t think this is necessary to accomplish what the mayor wants to accomplish," said Sgt. Gerard Asselin with the Anchorage Police Department Employees Assoc. "We have established collective bargaining procedures in which every issue that’s addressed in this proposal and exchange could be handled in the existing mechanism."
Assembly members expect additional work to be done and have a special assembly meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 27 to hear public testimony on the issue. A second work session at City Hall is planned on Wednesday, Feb. 20.
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