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Published: Friday, May 10, 2013, 1:15 p.m.

Fight over Anchorage labor laws headed to court

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A rewrite of Anchorage's labor laws that stripped many of the unions representing thousands of city employees of their powers is headed to civil court in an attempt to repeal it.
The Anchorage Daily News says the move comes after city attorney Dennis Wheeler rejected a proposed referendum that would have put the question of the rewrite to voters. Wheeler determined that the new law is administrative rather than legislative in nature, and therefore exempt from repeal by voters.
The law has a list of amendments that are specific about how to administer policies, which are narrow enough to qualify as administrative matters, Wheeler said. He compared the changes in the new law to things like setting work rules and conditions, benefit and insurance programs, and performance reviews.
"Those things are more administrative and require a level of expertise in daily operation of the city, city finances, and so on," he said.
But Anchorage teachers union president Andy Holleman and Jason Alward, of the International Union of Operating Engineers, say Wheeler's description is wrong. They claim that the law is more broadly written. The two are plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against the city May 2.
"This is an ordinance passed by the city, and it may have some administrative stuff in it, but by and large they changed the laws, and voters need to have a chance to reverse it," Holleman said.
The Anchorage Assembly voted in March to approve the rewrite, which Mayor Dan Sullivan said would save the city money and streamline negotiations on city contracts. Among other things, it strips unions of the right to strike and limits raises in any one year to the cost of living plus 1 percent. The Anchorage Assembly passed the rewrite on a 6-5 vote.
Holleman said many of the people opposed to the rewrite were angered not only by specific changes in the new law, but also by the way the city pushed it through.
"The real goal was to make sure people have absolute voice, to put the balance of power back in the citizens' hands on this," Holleman said.

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