AO37:The Bill Remains the Same
Friday was billed as the last Working Group on Ordinance 37:
“An Ordinance Amending Anchorage Municipal Code Chapter 3.70, Employee Relations, With Comprehensive Updates Securing Long Term Viability and Financial Stability of Employee and Labor Relations.”
In other words, an ordinance established to decrease union contracts and establish a process called “managed competition” — a program through which it is easier to outsource various job functions within the Municipality. (See: “ALEC” legislation across the nation).
In spite of efforts by Assembly Members Gray-Jackson, Traini, Flynn and Honeman to potentially scrap this ordinance and start over with employee and community participation, it is expected there will be a vote tomorrow. The vote is not expected to go well, which is (allegedly) why this vote is being pushed through before the election.
The massive rewrite of Employee Relations Code in such a short time and with no public input during the process is unprecedented. Many have witnessed the hours and hours of testimony against this Ordinance, whether it was first-hand in the Assembly Chambers, the live television feed or the live/recorded feed online. Some of you have followed the very thorough coverage here on Mudflats by Jeanne and also by John and Heather Aronno on Alaska Commons.
If you have followed the AO 37 developments in any of those ways, you will notice that there was one constant reply to many of the testifiers by several of the Assembly members. It sounded something like: “We plan to create an amendment addressing that.” These promises of amendments to the ordinance were in response to numerous concerns that hundreds representing thousands of municipal employees, union members and everyday Anchorage taxpayers have expressed about the extensive changes laid out in this document.
The concerns were explained eloquently by many: the potential for outsourcing any function, union or otherwise, through a process called “managed competition;” changing the collective bargaining and binding arbitration process by giving an inordinate amount of control to the Administration and the Assembly; cutting overall pay by eradicating overtime (“Sorry, ma’am, I can’t put out your house fire because that puts me into overtime”) and by no longer recognizing seniority in the pay scale or in scheduling.
The Friday work session was where these amendments were supposed to be discussed that would address some of these concerns. However, the amendments offered (other than the Gray-Jackson/Traini one mentioned above), while changing a word or phrase here and there or making alterations to procedure, made NO SIGNIFICANT CHANGES to AO37 overall, kicking thousands of Anchorage residents and their fears to the curb.
One Assembly Member’s complaint about the number of remaining questions and concerns was a surprise, as Debbie Ossiander generally sides with Mayor Sullivan on most issues:
“…[There are] a bunch of issues that I’m not seeing reflected in the agenda. Some of the concerns were, and still are, that it appears the ERB [Employee Relations Board} appeal process, judicial approval process is significantly limited. There's no recognition that I can see of the value of cross-training for education [garbled]. There’s no discussion about the utility of shop stewards with the Municipality in terms of dealing with employee conflict. So I have a big list, Mr. Chairman.”
The video is somewhat hard to hear, but Deputy Municipal Attorney Earnhart addressed (sort-of) one of the concerns Ms. Ossiander mentioned about the Employee Relations Board. You can hear considerable laughter, including my very-loud guffaw (sorry), when Earnhart mentioned he thought there was going to be an amendment addressing that. (Shock and surprise, it actually is addressed in the S-2 version.)
Other issues addressed:
Dick Traini focused several times on the fact that no one representing the employees or anyone in the public will be able to ask questions about the S1 version of the Ordinance, just released during the meeting. (Of course, at that time he didn’t know about the “S2″ amendments that weren’t released until Saturday morning.)
He also asked about the Assembly being able to discuss the changes with department heads.
“…If we want to have a department head, will they come to this meeting now, or will we schedule it for another day? I’m asking, for instance, for the Chief of Police.”
He addressed his questions to both Chairman Ernie Hall and Mayor Sullivan, asking if they had any plans to allow frther discussion to happen, both said “no.” Regarding the department heads, Mayor Sullivan said that Assembly Members were free to call department heads themselves – that the heads were “not subject to any type of “gag order.”" Much snickering was heard in the crowd.
More “lay on the table” amendments were promised for Tuesday night by Cheryl Frasca, who claimed she did not agree with the new requirmment for eight Assembly votes to get an arbitrator’s decision approved. Per the Ordinance:
“Under the amended provisions of AMC 3.70.110, upon reaching impasse after mediation, fact-finding, and arbitration, the arbitrator’s decision must be approved by at least 8 members of the Assembly. If the arbitrator’s decision is not approved, the Municipality’s Last Best Offer (LBO) may be implemented in accordance with 3.70.110B.10.”
Eight votes is the same requirement to overturn a veto, which happens only rarely. The assumption would be that it would be just this side of impossible to get an arbitrator’s decision accepted by enough Assembly members, so the Last Best Offer would become the standard practice. We’ll see if Ms. Frasca keeps to her word and presents her amendment to change it to six (6) votes for approval instead.
The other take-away from this Friday Working Group was that I didn’t know it was possible to obfuscate information even more than our Municipal Attorney, Dennis Wheeler. However, it seems his Deputy, Mr. Earnhart, has a gift for the legal double-talk. He was asked multiple times in multiple ways if he could reassure workers that their current pay was not going to be cut.
He never truly answered the question. He even tried to reassure people with a total falsehood, claiming that “collective bargaining was not changing” so the only way their pay could be cut is if their union leaders did it to them. Isn’t the new “Last Best Offer” scenario a change to collective bargaining?
I encourage people to take a look at the original Ordinance as well as all other versions: