Workers Put Mayor on Notice
“I don’t need a coat,” thought I as I headed out the door to the Anchorage Assembly meeting. “It’s up in the 20s, and I just have to get from the parking lot to the Assembly chambers, and then back.” I grabbed my thickest hoodie and hit the road.
I broke the cardinal rule of Alaska – Be prepared for anything. And when you break the cardinal rule, you can pretty much be assured that that’s the time you wish you hadn’t. “What is with the traffic?” I kept thinking as I waited through three light changes from the Seward Highway on to 36th, and two more on 36th. I wondered if the streams of people I saw walking on the sidewalk were headed to the movie theater across the street. And then, suddenly, it was 2008 and I remembered feeling like this on my way to the anti-Palin rally. Could it be that all these people were going where I was?
I passed the doors where there had to have been almost 200 people standing outside. They must be gathering before they go in. People were coming from far away on foot, because there was not a parking space to be found. I lucked out and saw someone leaving out the back door and nabbed a spot. “No on 37! No on 37! No on 37!” The chanting boomed across the parking lot. Cursing myself for my lack of appropriate winter outerwear, and listening to my own voice lecturing my kids about how you never, ever go anywhere without a coat, just in case… I grabbed my camera, shoved my hands in my hoodie pockets and took what was coming to me.
Union workers and their supporters had shown up in force to send a message loud and clear to Mayor Dan Sullivan, Assembly Chair Ernie Hall, and the rest of the Assembly members. If you’re out to stick it to Anchorage workers, they’re not going to take it lying down.
The Sullivan administration and two key Anchorage Assembly members (Chairman Ernie Hall, and Jennifer Johnston) are sponsoring a measure that would curb unions’ power, limit raises and eliminate the right to strike, among many new provisions.
The measure was under wraps until Friday afternoon, when unions, most Anchorage Assembly members and even city department heads first heard about it.
The memo from the Sullivan administration went out Friday at 4:55pm. Workers were told to show up for an 8am Monday morning meeting if they had questions.
Sullivan agrees the schedule for approving the labor law rewrite is compressed. “I would like to have introduced it earlier,” he said in an interview Monday.
But it wasn’t ready to go until Friday afternoon, he said, and he wanted to get it before the Assembly in time to affect contracts that expire at mid-year. Nine contracts with members of eight unions all come up for renewal within the next two years, he said.
The mayor said he didn’t tell most city department heads about the measure until Friday afternoon because up until then, it had been a confidential work draft. But concerns department heads have raised about working with the union contracts over the past three years were at the heart of the process, Sullivan said.
Another hundred or more had arrived since I had parked the car, and they just kept coming. I tried to work my way through the crowd to get inside, and my suspicions were confirmed. This crowd wasn’t outside voluntarily. The lobby was jammed full, which meant the Assembly chambers were at capacity.
I climbed up on to a retaining wall to snap some pictures. The energy was palpable. You could cut the solidarity with a knife. And it was really, really awesome. I can’t remember the last time I felt good about an event like this, so that tells you how long it’s been.
“No on 37! No on 37!” People in knit hats and mittens, with voices rising on puffs of steam were there with a common purpose, even if their own union was not affected by this ordinance, and even if they (like me) didn’t and never had belonged to a union. I knew that those in the chambers on the other side of the brick wall heard the thundering chant.
Sullivan said on the day before the rally that he was pretty sure a majority on the Assembly would support his plan. But there is an election in two short months, and those running for re-election would do well to notice the reaction to the Mayor’s little plan. I watched the determined faces in the crowd, and I wouldn’t want them campaigning for my opponent.