A group of Anchorage unions turned in a petition with more than 22,000 signatures Monday that may let voters decide the fate of Assembly Ordinance 37, the city’s newest labor law.

On Monday, the coalition of municipal unions turned in its Repeal AO37 petition to the city's clerk's office after gathering 22,136 signatures. Organizers only needed 7,124 signatures to bring a vote to Anchorage residents on whether to keep the new law.

According to Mayor Dan Sullivan, the much-debated AO37 is the law of the land, creating consistency in union contracts.

Union leaders say keeping AO37 around would adversely affect more than 2,000 employees in fields ranging from construction to police.

"(A) city needs to be able to be a good place to work; we need to be able to recruit and retain good employees,” said petition supporter Jason Alward, who works for the International Union of Operating Engineers. “This really sets a tone with how the city chooses to do and negotiate with their business partners and those are the employees."

Sullivan has a different viewpoint from the unions. He says AO37 would prevent what he calls bad contracts and agreements that were made by then-mayor Mark Begich amid the 2008 recession. Begich, now Alaska's junior U.S. senator, faces stiff Republican opposition in the upcoming 2014 election.

"That a mayor and a complicit Assembly essentially gives contracts that are so rich during the worst recession in 70 years -- it just really was one of the worst business decisions, mistakes a city could have done," Sullivan said. "It's our philosophy that the rules that AO37 created are proper rules for negotiation, whether there's an ordinance or not."

Anchorage Assembly member Dick Traini, who didn’t vote for AO37, says the issues targeted by the ordinance needed to be addressed, but rewriting the rules was the wrong way to go

"We had no problem with binding arbitration,” Traini said. “We had no problem dealing with unions versus management issues, man to man, man to woman -- we have no problem with it." 

The city clerk's office will need to verify the signatures, which will happen within 10 days under Anchorage's current municipal charter. If verified, then the Assembly will have to figure out whether to put the repeal petition on the ballot of a special election in 75 days or wait until the April election.

In the meantime, Sullivan's office still has time to appeal the court ruling that granted the unions permission to petition. 

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