Hundreds of people rallied at the Anchorage Assembly chambers Tuesday night to protest a proposal by Mayor Dan Sullivan, aimed at limiting unions. Despite the huge turnout to protest the proposal, Assembly members voted to allow it to move ahead to public hearings.
There were so many people spilling from the Loussac Library Assembly chambers into the lobby that Anchorage Fire Chief Chris Bushue had to ask people to stop coming in.
“It is simply unsafe to have this many people packed into one area with the number of exits we’ve got.”
“To my knowledge this is the first time that we’ve had to do this at the Assembly meeting. And you know it is essentially what it is – it’s unsafe so we can’t allow it.”
The lobby hit its capacity of 250 people even before the meeting started. And estimates put the total number of people at the meeting, including those who stood outside at between 750 and 1-thousand. People like Dan Repasky with the IBEW local 15-47. He represents the workers at municipal light and power and mechanics for the people-mover bus system. He says the Mayor’s proposal is way out of bounds.
“If the Mayor wants to talk to organized labor about changes that he wants in the laws then he needs to come to us and talk to us. You don’t come to negotiate with an ax hanging over your head. And we see it as that.”
Lorie Miner is the union president for the classified employees association at the Mat-su Borough School District and represents about 800 support staff there. She says she came all the way from the valley to support municipal workers, because the stakes are high.
“So Mayor Sullivan’s proposal, even though it only affects the city of Anchorage and its municipality workers, it’s actually going to affect the entire state and the collective bargaining rights that the entire state of Alaska has and all of its union employees.”
Ordinance number 37 would impact approximately 22-hundred municipal employees from accountants to police officers and fire fighters. It would cut benefits, lock pay to a 5 year average of the consumer price index and limit contract negotiations, including taking away the option of a strike.
Inside the Assembly chambers Assembly member Paul Honeman expressed concern that the ordinance was being rushed.
“When was this discussed with department heads … and was it discussed and was it discussed with the organized labor groups.”
Mayor Dan Sullivan sent out an email to department heads and union leaders late Friday about the proposed ordinance, then held a meeting Monday to explain the it. Union leaders are especially concerned that a quick timeline for the proposal could limit public input. Honeman tried to postpone the the ordinance indefinitely, to kill the it before it was even introduced. The Assembly had to take a break so an attorney could check Roberts Rules of Order to make sure that was okay. Then assembly members voted, and the motion failed. Assembly members Honeman, Gray-Jackson, Dick Traini & Patrick Flynn voted to Kill it. Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson moved to postpone the public hearing date until after municipal elections in April. That also failed. Honeman then proposed moving the public hearing date to the end of March. That failed too. Assembly member Debbie Ossiander joined them in votes to postpone public testimony. Union leaders like Derek Hsieh, with the Anchorage with the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association say the workers he represents are disappointed that the Mayor did not consult key leaders before crafting the proposal.
“Instead what’s happening is we have a political group that are going to try to jam something down the throat of the people of Anchorage. And they’re going to hurt their police employees, their fire employees, their plumbers, their electricians, the people that are out plowing the snow this morning. I hope people in Anchorage, if nothing else, ask for a fair process. That’s all we want is a fair process. We need to put some time into this. This collective bargaining ordinance has been around for 44 years. I don’t understand what the hurry is to change it in two weeks.”
Assembly Chair Ernie Hall, who sponsored the the proposal along with Vice-Chair Jennifer Johnston said, the goal is to have the ordinance overhauled by the end of March or the beginning of April, before upcoming union negotiations begin. Although he says he anticipates lengthy public testimony.
“You saw the number of people here tonight? Public testimony is going to take a long time on this, a long time. And with the date that is — a date certain, end of March beginning of April, looking at the people here that weren’t even in this room tonight, it could take a couple meetings, maybe three, just to get the the public testimony.”
Mayor Sullivan, who was attending meetings in Juneau says the changes are needed to save money and to simplify negotiations. Assembly members voted 7 to 4 to allow the proposal to go public hearing February 26th. The Assembly is holding a work session on the proposals Friday at 1pm at City hall. It is open to the public.