Thursday, March 07, 2013

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan Responds To Concerns About AO 2013-37, The Responsible Labor Act

Update March 26th: The Anchorage Assembly voted 6-5 to pass AO 2013-37(S-1), the second revision of Mayor Dan Sullivan's labor ordinance. Updated post HERE.

Update March 25th: Mayor Dan Sullivan has since introduced a revised labor ordinance which offers some compromises; updated post HERE.

Because of the furor triggered by the introduction of AO 2013-37, known as the Responsible Labor Act, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan has taken directly to the airwaves to answer questions and address concerns regarding this ordinance. Because this ordinance was crafted the same way all other ordinances are crafted, which resulted in it being unveiled to the public without advance warning, many within organized labor are concerned that it might result in the erosion of municipal workers' rights and benefits. Hundreds of municipal employees showed up to express their concerns when the ordinance was first heard on February 20th; Assemblyman Dick Traini said it would be better to introduce it as a charter amendment so that voters could weigh in on it at the ballot box. The general public first weighed in on February 27th.

The Municipality of Anchorage provides a summary of AO 2013-37 on this page. The three generic objectives are to upgrade code to contemporary standards and best practices, assure compliance with federal and state regulations, and to improve fiscal health. One of the more important secondary objectives is to standardize the 600 or so benefit combinations currently available to municipal employees. The Municipality also wants to tie employee pay more closely to classification and job description and place limits on pay enhancements. It will not amend, alter or void any currently existing labor agreement during its current term; all of the proposed revisions apply to labor negotiations, the impasse process and future labor agreements. AO 2013-37 does not involve the Anchorage School District.

The Anchorage Daily News provided a point-counterpoint on this ordinance, with Sullivan touting it on February 23rd, and Gerard Asselin, the Chairman of the Coalition of Municipal Unions, expressing his opposition on the same day. Asselin decried the apparent secrecy, and noted that the current system had served Anchorage well in his opinion for 40 years and thus is time-tested, reliable and fair. Asselin's primary objection is that the ordinance leaves so many unanswered questions that it will actually complicate negotiations and create many additional legal challenges. He thinks it's impossible to take eight work groups that serve our city and its citizens in eight completely different ways and fit them all under one very constrictive ordinance.

On March 6th, 2013, KTVA Channel 11 conducted an extended interview with Mayor Dan Sullivan; the video is embedded below. Because the volume is a bit low and their video technology is unpredictable, I also provide highlights of the applicable part of the interview:

-- Lack of transparency. Mayor Sullivan says this ordinance was crafted the same way as all other municipal ordinances. The internal work product of the city when they produce an ordinance really isn't done in a group setting, but by the municipal attorney, by our employee relations director, the CFO, the city manager, and the mayor himself. The opportunity for public interaction and feedback comes with the assembly hearings and applicable work sessions.

-- No fundamental short-term changes in compensation. Mayor Sullivan says nobody is getting a reduction in wages or benefits. In addition, existing seniority rules regarding selection for overtime will be maintained.

-- Misinformation. Many municipal employees appear to be incompletely informed about the provisions of this ordinance; one police officer testified that he was going to lose 40 percent of his pay. Some employees also think that they are not going to get the steps that they're including in their employment classification. None of these issues are affected at all.

-- Wisconsin labor reforms. Mayor Sullivan says there's no similarity between AO 2013-37 and Wisconsin's labor reforms. Specifically, Sullivan states, "Wisconsin basically did away with collective bargaining. We are not doing that at all. Collective bargaining still exists. We will still negotiate contracts. What we've done is just narrow the parameters of the contracts so you don’t have these large swings in wages and benefits. That basically outstrips the ability to pay, which means you have to cut services. On the other hand, with narrow definitions you don’t go to the extreme one way or another. So it's much more consistent, much more fair to the employees, and to the taxpayers that have to pay the employees".

-- Outsourcing of dispatch services. Mayor Sullivan flatly states that dispatching will not be outsourced to a foreign country.

Additional public testimony was taken on March 6th, and more is scheduled in the future.

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