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June 13, 2021

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The Many Faces of Ernie Hall

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As Tuesday draws near, bringing with it the probable passage of Mayor Sullivan’s anti-labor “Employee Relations Act,” I still have a question for Assembly Chair Ernie Hall.

Among the ardent supporters of Anchorage Ordinance 37, on which Chair Hall’s name is listed as the sponsor, are lawmakers who crusaded against unions during their campaigns.

During his first run against Dick Traini, Andy Clary told a crowd that he felt limiting city contracts to the public sector was “wrong.” Back in 2010, he said: “I believe that excludes a whole crop of private contractors out there which, if we opened the door up and let everybody compete, we would get a much better rate.”

That same year, Adam Trombley was running against Paul Honeman for Sheila Selkregg’s seat. He agreed then: “What you’re going to do is you’re going to find a lower price and you’re going to find a better service.” He’s been consistent ever since.

If you were an informed voter over the past few years, you should have had a good sense of who you were voting for.

Hall is a bit more puzzling. In eleven years, we’ve seen him transition from Fran Ulmer’s choice as a Lieutenant Governor, to an unaffiliated self-proclaimed moderate running against liberal incumbent Matt Claman, to the Chair of the Assembly and sponsor of a bill that could make the Tea Party blush.

That’s a lot of ground to cover in a decade.

In 2002, ex-Teamster John Sroufe wrote a letter to the editor of the Juneau Empire in support of Ulmer and Hall: “They are pro-labor and they will work hard for Alaskan families.”

By 2010, the waters had muddied and it was Matt Claman who received support from the police and firefighters unions, while vocalizing a belief in the need for stronger a police force.

Sullivan measured his endorsement for Hall, telling the ADN’s Rosemary Shinohara, that year: ”I don’t have any grand agenda…. I want to restore the fiscal health of the city. Having the votes aligned is helpful.”

Hall called the Mayor’s budget cutting “very prudent,” and ironically commenting that “Maintaining what we have is critical to us. We’ve got things other communities would die for.”

Like good jobs. High paying jobs. Jobs that provide infrastructure and public safety for the community and a future for the worker, and his or her family.

You don’t have to go back to 2002 to find a version of Ernie Hall who agreed.

In 2010, I moderated a candidate forum at the University of Alaska Anchorage. During the segment where candidates fielded questions from the audience, current conservative radio talk show host Dave Stieren – then just a twinkle in Dan Fagan’s eye – raised his voice on the matter of labor contracts and “managed competition”:

When the municipality takes taxpayers’ money and decides how that money is going to be spent, and you have union companies and nonunion companies, the municipality has, with some of the labor agreements, excluded some of the nonunion companies unless they pay signatory rates to unions. My question specifically is do you support that process or are you opposed to that process? …[S]pecifically, is it the right of nonunion companies to be awarded work without signatory dues to union? For the nonunion companies of course.

Ernie Hall answered.

I’ve bid a lot of public sector jobs. They all are Davis-Bacon jobs. So, when you bid that job you bid it understanding that you’re going to pay a prevailing wage. You’re basically going to provide prevailing benefits as well. My frustration in all my life in bidding in public jobs is I would love to see a practice made that a low bid was always thrown out. It’s frustrating when you go and put the time and effort into bidding a job, and somebody will come in and literally low ball the job and be awarded it, only to find out later that the change orders that are put in absolutely exceed what might have been the highest bid on the job to start with. But I believe that everyone should have equal access to public funds when it’s being spent on projects.

Hall didn’t believe that labor contracts were a net negative. He even advocated beefing them up, so that private sector, over-optimistic, and unaccountable bids could get tossed – which is the main concern with opening up public sector jobs to the outsourcing contained in AO37′s “managed competition.”

Dick Traini agreed.

[W]e’ve got labor contracts in effect right now. And according to Wheeler, if you listen to him, those labor contracts are a reality. They can’t change. They’re not going to come up for years. So, your issue will come up in years, but not right now. Labor contracts are in place.”

Something tells me that Dave Stieren remembered. Pretty sure he’s made the bulk of a radio show out of it.

But Ernie Hall had a different idea. Remembering, again, what he told the ADN during that first Assembly campaign: ”Maintaining what we have is critical to us. We’ve got things other communities would die for.”

How does starving the work force provide an end to that means?

Hall had another solution. And it came during a question about the possibility of a sales tax. Dick Traini dismissed the notion of adopting a sales tax because of the voter-adopted threshold requiring 61 percent of municipal voters to approve any change in taxation. Hall saw things differently. He said he was more of an optimist.

This is something that needs to be done by our community as a whole, and take the time to have conversations with each other that if we really want to see this city meet the potential that it possibly can be, first thing we need to do is get an initiative to repeal the 60 percent… and go to just a 50; a majority vote. And then put it back on and see if the community wouldn’t come together and support it, so that everybody would share the burden.

It’s a weird juxtaposition. In 2010, Ernie hall called for the entire community to come together and discuss how we share the collective burden of maintaining the services that “other communities would die for.”

Three years later, the self-proclaimed moderate administered the unprecedented move to close public testimony on a community discussion that could force irreplaceable workers out of the city they love and serve, because a bill he is sponsoring is revoking the “prevailing wage” he recently found to be ubiquitous with public sector jobs.

Back in 2010, Ernie Hall explained the unexpected Sullivan endorsement to the ADN:

“I asked Dan Sullivan why it was that he wanted to endorse me, and his comment was, ‘Ernie, you’ve always been a moderate, somebody that keeps his word, and I can work with that.’ “

(John Aronno is a regular contributor to The Mudflats. This article is cross-posted from the blog Alaska Commons.)

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5 Responses to “The Many Faces of Ernie Hall”
  1. Zyxomma says:

    I, too, live in a city where the mayor does everything possible to crush organized labor. Most recently, it was school bus drivers and matrons. I still “look for the union label,” so that means my clothes are vintage, since there’s no more ILGWU (it’s now UNITE-HERE). Younger sister and I are the only family members who never belonged to a union. However, I’m glad I didn’t go to work for the post office like mom, of blessed memory. Sigh.

  2. simple mind says:

    “I am running to end the partisanship on our Assembly and move Anchorage forward. Partisan bickering has kept us from focusing on Anchorage’s number one need: economic development.” That was Ernie Hall’s campaign statement in the Anchorage Daily News last time around. Yep, end all that ugly partisanship. Work with all sides. Yep. Then introduce and sponsor one of the most divisive and contentious bills in last decade. Release it on a Friday afternoon so no one has a chance to read and respond to it. Cut off public testimony on it. What I really object to is the lie. This is not a bill to “streamline contract negotiations” unless what you mean is that negotiations go pretty quickly when you take away the bargaining rights of one side. Of course, then it isn’t a negotiation anymore. Oops, I guess that was partisan. This is not a guy looking to listen to both sides and end partisanship. This is a guy looking to screw over the people who get paid by the hour in order to make his job easier.

  3. Linda Kellen Biegel says:

    John, I’ve been trying to explain what happens EVERY SINGLE TIME in managed competition bids (realize that the one we’ve lived through, the employees won and STILL ended up working for a contractor). For most people, it’s hard to explain that the power of public employment is in the four little words “other duties as assigned”…you can give someone a task not on their job description and they still do it, without having to modify a contract with “change orders.” I wish I’d seen Ernie Hall’s response before I testified…It was a perfect explanation and I would have repeated it back to him.

    Thanks for this great post!

  4. GoI3ig says:

    I wondered when someone would point out this somewhat paradoxical shift in Hall’s philosophy. I still have my “I’m a Fran Fan” button. I sometimes wonder when the transition began. I guess I can chalk it up to “Joe Lieberman Syndrome.”

  5. mike from iowa says:

    So the skunk changed his stripes to a more fashionable coat of spots and yet he is still a skunk? Of course in rw la-la land,parfum de skonk==eau de cologne. (My interpretation of French reeks like nutters)

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