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November 23, 2014

Workers Put Mayor on Notice

Photo from Anchorage Education Association

“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?

Sure enough.

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.

Yes, the mayor would very much liked to have had it done earlier, but weirdly it just didn’t happen to be done until 4:55pm on Friday afternoon. And the only reason nobody knew about it is because until right after 4:54pm on Friday,  it was a “confidential work draft.”  And then, it wasn’t confidential any more. See how that works?

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.

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Comments
11 Responses to “Workers Put Mayor on Notice”
  1. sudsy says:

    You don’t just walk in and change the entire city compact because of a nice trip to the emerald city do you. ‘Course Earnie thinks it’s nice; so does Jennifer, and Frasca agrees with her one constituent. Everybody else? If we wanted to be in Seattle we’d be there. Thanks anyway.

  2. sudsy says:

    Google Seattle Joint Crafts Council Agreement and find a recent 195 page document which may be an Anchorage template in two weeks time. Surprise!

  3. Ice Gal says:

    When you elect regressive republicans on any level this is the agenda you can expect.
    People better wake up because when these @#$%$# break the unions you can kiss any benefits like weekends good by

  4. Zyxomma says:

    Solidarity!

  5. mike from iowa says:

    Since today is Valentine’s Day,I hope the workers handed the SOB his head on a platter with a smiley face!

  6. simple mind says:

    Sullivan is, and always has been, an unrepentant, amoral slimeball. Its what he does,and he makes no bones about it. The people to remember in this fiasco are Hall and Johnston. When you think about police officers and firefighters responding in the subzero night to help you or your family, remember Hall and Johnston. When you pick up your kids after school and see their teacher working after-hours to help a lagging student, remember Hall and Johnston. And while you are at it, when you remember with distaste that banana republic circus we laughingly called a municipal election a few months ago, remember Hall and Johnston (and the rest). Let them know, especially Hall, that come election time, you will remember.

  7. Pinwheel says:

    Where have all these people been on Election Days in 2012 ?? ALEC at work in our own smoke-filled backrooms. n

  8. hedgewytch says:

    I was afraid that there would be a lackluster response to this. Glad I was wrong. I am hoping this same kind of political action will be mobilized against Parnell and the State Legislature on those hateful, wrong-headed bills that they have been introducing such as the gutting of the 2006 Cruise ship initiative, the Voter i.d. bill and the bill recently introduced regarding a woman’s right to reproductive health care.

    I so hope Anchorage/Alaska wakes the heck up and gives these guys the heave ho on our next election cycles, regardless of the efforts to gerrymander that problem away!

  9. COalmostNative says:

    This is awesome! I was a NEA member for 29 years; we always put our students first, and worked with district administration to come up with reasonable solutions- including several times when we needed to figure out how to provide health insurance in the face of huge cost increases.

    I am tired of Republican/pro-profit educational companies/others blaming unions for all the problems. Sure, there are some unions with cumbersome rules that need shuld be streamlined- but improve the system that supports and protects workers, not slash-and-burn.

  10. John says:

    Also the crowd was gearing for a fight inside too. When Ernie told them before the meeting that the room was over capacity and people without a seat had to leave, someone shouted “can I have yours?” Hopefully that person will run as a write in against Hall, and take his seat. Hall was picked as Sullivan’s stooge to run against Clayman, and he won by claiming to be a reasonable person. His true colors came out long ago, however: He will do whatever Sullivan tells him to do.

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