I love my city, and I love my job
“It’s starting to feel like a rock concert.” I agreed with the anonymous voice drifting over the mass of people, packed like sardines into the lobby of the Assembly chambers. Bright lights were on, TV cameras set up, and people were fanning themselves with folders, and papers. Everyone was here to testify on Ordinance 37, the mayor’s attempt to take advantage of the current makeup of the Assembly to push through a law that would restrict workers’ rights, and curtail collective bargaining for public unions.
The turnout was impressive. I wasn’t sure if anyone had shown up to testify in favor of this ordinance, but “No on 37” stickers were ubiquitous.
I was able to find a seat, which was more than I was able to do the last time. The mood was energetic and focused. Conversations were intense. People were sitting in seats, reading over folded pieces of paper on which they’d written their 3-minute statement. There was a single-minded purpose, and a solidarity which one feels at times like this when even those who are not directly affected by legislation which chips away at the rights of certain unions understand that it affects all of us.
“So, what is this all about? Fracking?” I chuckled at a woman sitting behind me who was likely the only one who was in for a surprise.
Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson entered the room – statuesque, with jaw set. She waved to the crowd, and they erupted in applause, recognizing a staunch ally who is now out-gunned.
The Assembly took their seats, one by one. The only one missing was Debbie Ossiander who checked in via telephone. She’d had a coughing fit the day before that warranted calling the paramedics, according to Chair Ernie Hall, who went on to explain that each person would have 3 minutes, and if needed he’d scheduled further testimony for March 5, and 6. Fifteen hours would be available.
What happened then was a seemingly never-ending line of people telling their stories. Some were deeply personal, some approached the situation from a fiscal stance, others from a public safety point of view, others from simple practicality, and still others called out the blatant playing of politics and how it will wreak havoc in the lives of good hard-working people. Mayor Sullivan was not a popular man among these working people, and time after time he was told so.
I found myself feeling deep emotions for these men and women who came to speak their minds and their hearts – firefighters, clerks, People mover drivers, Parks & Rec employees, police officers, teachers, operating engineers, one after another. These were not union “thugs,” or parasites on society. These were hard-working, dedicated people who just want, and deserve a decent life. Here are bits and pieces of some of their thoughts:
*Long time public servant – It looks like the city is at war with their employees. This is bad for commerce. Municipal and state employees are the hardest working people I know. Don’t call these people “the union.” These are your employees who happen to be represented by a union. If you are the arbitrators of disputes instead of a neutral third party, as this ordinance would do, people will think you are bought, and I don’t think you want to leave that legacy for yourselves. You don’t short sheet people and change the law because it’s something you don’t like. Slow this down, and get input. It took 30 years to get to this point you don’t like, but the unions didn’t do this. This was bilateral, and all done together.
*This is nothing but political theater by the mayor. He creates problems that didn’t exist before.
*This is a bad deal. Do you want someone to build or wire your house for what you think it costs? Cheapest is not best. I take pride in what I do. When you end up with substandard work, you get what you pay for.
*There was another ordinance where we had weeks of people being bussed in from the valley (Ordinance 64). You’re telline us we will be limited if we become repetitive? I know some of you socially. We have worked hard. We don’t feel like being attacked is the way to go. Chairman Hall, I can’t imagine that you want this to be your legacy.
*Wife of Anchorage police officer – I want to share the daily reality my family deals with. He is willing to sacrifice his life for his community as a Sergeant with APD. My husband walks toward the gunfire, toward the horrific car wreck, toward the fire, toward the mentally ill homeless person. He has to place children in foster care, inform a wife her husband has died in car crash. Be at the scene where terrible crimes have been committed. His family sacrifices his presence. This ordinance will have sweeping impacts and would result in a 40% pay cut in 2015 when his contract is renegotiated.
She received rousing applause to which Chairman Hall banged his gavel. “I will have decorum!” he said. If applause is lack of decorum, then he didn’t get much despite the dozen or more times he said that throughout the evening. “We can’t hear people if you applaud,” he offered as an excuse. But, of course, the applause only happened when a speaker was done, and before the next approached the lectern.
*Anchorage Police Department Sergeant (the husband of the woman who just testified) No wonder police officers suffer a 75% divorce rate. Patrolling streets eats away at people. You see people at their worst, and deal daily with sexual assault, homicide, terrible accidents. What will happen when pay, benefits and quality of life are being chipped away at. Democracy is the powerful being accountable to the masses. Look at the masses here in this room.
Assemblyman Paul Honeman, a retired police officer asked him if it was earlier in his career, and this ordinance were in effect would he consider looking elsewhere?
“I am afraid this will impact the workforce. I know of others who are looking elsewhere now.”
*APDEA employee says we need to be partners in crafting solutions. We wonder if our jobs are secure.
*Shop steward at Local 52. I am an Eisenhower Republican. He was supportive of unions, and part of what my parents called the greatest generation. But their children, the next generation is dismantling everything that generation worked for.
*Municipal worker – We’re all different politically, different backgrounds, but everyone in my shop is opposed to Ordinance 37. In my eyes, this is evil – Darth Vader and the dark side of the force. When I hear the radio spot featuring Mayor Sullivan, I feel sick. I feel as sick as I do with the butterflies right now. I have worked for the city for 9 years.
Assemblyman Dick Traini refers to the radio ad where Dan Sullivan coos about Ordinance 37 and how wonderful it is. “The radio ad – How do you feel about $28,000 of taxpayers’ dollars being spent to bring that message to the public?”
The room gasps, and makes loud noises of discontent.
*Parks & Recreation employee – I’m a loyal and dedicated employee at Parks & Rec. It used to be the place to be. Now entry level is not worth working there anymore. It’s just a stepping stone instead of the place everyone wanted to be. I feel like I’m working in a hostile environment. The administration says we’re hard working, but then start tearing us down.
Chairman Hall announces there will be no breaks, but tells members of the Assembly there is plenty of food in the back, and that they should go help themselves whenever they want. He says he wants to hear as many people as possible. Clearly it’s not important to him that the people are heard by all members.
*A woman announces at the mic that she wasn’t going to testify but talked to assembly member and asked of Ordinance 37, “Are you voting for it?” And he said, “Hell yeah!” That’s when she said she knew, “This is about revenge. This is just about sticking it to the unions.”
I scan the row of Assembly members to see if I could spot the one who said it – Frasca looking down casually, Traini with interest piqued, Honeman with furrowed brow, Gray-Jackson with eyebrows raised, looking horrified, Birch looking nonplussed as always, Ernie Hall attentive and neutral, and then… Adam Trombley – ramrod straight, ashen and almost pasty, compulsively sipping on a can of what appears to be a Red Bull. His eyes dart around, and he looks like a kid that had just gotten nailed doing something very, very bad.
The woman went on, “It seems as though the administration is afraid to deal with us, but we are good! If that’s the case, then I suggest you take training. I’m happy to give it to you Mayor Sullivan.” At this point, eyes were off Trombley, and on the mayor who turned the color of a lobster in about two seconds, and continued to stare at his Blackberry which he’d been doing for much of the meeting.
Ernie Hall asked an apparently sensitive question, which I missed.
“Can I tell the truth or should I lie?” she asked, in a half-hearted attempt to deflect the question.
“Lie. It’s always best,” responded Hall immediately. A sudden gasp went up from the audience.
“Well that was a quick answer,” said a man behind me. “Kind of tells you all you need to know, doesn’t it?”
The crowd continued to murmer as Elvi Gray-Jackson apologized to the woman about the “Hell, yeah!” that a member of the body “would have the audacity to say that to you.”
Suddenly, the room is filled with the sound of a barking dog. We realize it’s coming from the teleconference. The person testifying makes reference to the dog, and Hall says, “Oh, it’s probably Ms. Ossiander coughing.” Groans from the room again.
*Anchorage police officer – He refers to a comment Trombley made yesterday when a retiring city worker was honored by the Assembly. “It’s refreshing to see a municipal worker who’s been at their job longer than I’ve been alive,” Trombley had said.
“I’d like to do that too,” said the man, “but if this ordinance goes through I wont. It gets rid of the longevity and performance bonuses that give people the incentive to make it a career for their lifetimes.”
*Anchorage Police officer – Who’d have thought that the Tom Fink days would be the “good old days?” (audience laughter) I’ve had a good career, but single parents and those just working to the next step will have that step taken away. Don’t just think about the person making the high pay. Don’t forget about everyone else.
*Retired firefighter – This ordinance is one man’s idea. I can’t believe such backward legislation is even being considered in 2013. Egos get in the way. Mayors get used to telling people what to do, and aren’t used to having someone tell them no. Sullivan is cut from the same cloth as Mayor Mystrom. You wonder how much he really cares about public safety. People have to have a way to address their concerns. If he’s eliminating the right to strike, he must think that people will WANT to strike after this ordinance goes through – it’s that bad.
*This ordinance is only good for the mayor and his lackeys.
*Mudflats contributor Elstun Lauesen – I’m so mad I might have a heart attack and die right here and it would serve you right because you’d have to get a forklift to get me out. Just make sure the forklift driver is a union forklift driver because I want to go right. Mayor Sullivan talking about labor is like the pope talking about sex and marriage. He doesn’t really do it, but he’s an expert at it.
*Police Dispatcher – She had dreams of being a pilot, but they were cut short because she was diagnosed with MS at 34 years old. She was able to get a good job that she loves serving the public taking emergency calls from 7pm to 7am. “This Ordinance is like my disease, it is arbitrary and unfair.”
Good people will leave, and qualified people will retire as soon as they are able.
*Young APD officer out of the academy – Recruits will absorb the year long training academy and then find a better place to work. The citizens will end up with a lower quality of life. He’s from Wisconsin, and has seen how attacks on public sector unions work, first hand. He moved here because of the pay and benefits and quality of life in the city. The Alaska State Troopers tried to recruit him 2 months after he started working. He’d reconsider that now. Anchorage has been attractive despite the lack of pension like there is in the Lower 48, only because of good pay and benefits. This ordinance will make it less attractive.
*Muni worker – I’m one of the guys who comes home and eats cold turkey on Thanksgiving because I’ve been plowing the city streets. I’m the one fixing the potholes when people are passing at 40 or 50 mph so it doesn’t ruin someone else’s car. Where are the people testifying on the other side? There isn’t anyone.
*I drive a People Mover bus, and I love my job.
*Police officer – It is an honor to serve my community. I wanted to join the military after 9/11, but my wife said no. She was a military brat and didn’t want that life for our family. I am a Republican conservative and have always voted Republican. Why is it that conservatives in this city don’t treat public safety officers as the professionals that they are? In Arizona my parents live in a retirement community. They treat public safety well. Stop the polarizing political rhetoric and lead your city. The intellecutaly honest know this is the mayor’s attempt to break the unions before our next contract.
The testimony continued for five hours, ending at 11:00pm. I was left exhausted, and with a feeling I wasn’t prepared for. I agree with the yard signs that say, “We proudly support Anchorage’s city workers,” but I was flooded with a feeling that went beyond mere “support.” I had not felt such a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for the people of Anchorage before, and I don’t know that many people do.
Do we really stop and think about the man filling potholes in lousy weather, the People Mover driver who really loves her job, the police officers who must deal with homicide and sexual assault and humanity at its worst on a daily basis, the firefighter who literally risks his life for us, the woman who takes our panicked 911 call at 4am when our baby has stopped breathing, or the administrative staff that makes it all possible? I was humbled, and brought almost to tears more than once. “This is the thanks we get?” one distraught police officer had asked, looking up at the members of the Assembly who were repaying the dedication of these good people with pay cuts, and loss of benefits.
It’s easy to “support the troops” with a bumper magnet. It’s easy to “support city workers” with a yard sign. But this situation requires that non-union allies who recognize that where workers’ rights are strong, a city is strong. It’s people are strong. Top quality public servants mean a better quality of life for all of us. We must support our neighbors, our friends, and those who serve, often without appreciation.
Call, and email your Assembly members. And if this ordinance goes through, vow to support with your whole heart and energy those who run against any elected official who has supported it. Solidarity is more than a union buzzword. It is a call to action for all of us who love our city.
Sunday, March 3 is the last day to register to vote for the Anchorage Municipal election in April!