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AO-37 Labor Law Referendum Set for November Vote

Published On: Jan 28 2014 11:36:42 PM AKST   Updated On: Mar 26 2014 10:26:26 PM AKDT

It’s a decision that’s almost been a year in the making: the Anchorage Assembly voted 6-5 Tuesday night to put a referendum on a labor law on the November ballot.

The assembly has heard hundreds of public comments this past year, from union leaders and workers, to put the fate of AO-37 to a public vote.

Tuesday night, the assembly heard no public testimony and had very short debate about the labor ordinance.

“The problem is justice delayed is justice denied, and they can move it out to whenever they want, the result is going to be the same and it’s going to get reversed,” said Assemblyman Dick Traini, who opposes the labor law.

The ordinance limits the growth of compensation for city unions, curtails their ability to strike and eliminates binding arbitration.

The assembly passed AO-37 last March by just one vote, but a petition drive gathered enough signatures (and survived several court battles) to force a public vote on the issue.

Tuesday night's vote concluded almost a year of uncertainty surrounding the referendum. During that time, two separate lawsuits were filed, the validity of the petition went to both the state superior and Supreme Courts, and a veto by Mayor Dan Sullivan on the election date survived a court battle of its own.

Assemblyman Traini wanted the vote to happen this April, and he said Tuesday’s decision isn’t going to change the way voters decide in November.

“They're going to find out the voters are going to turn out in November just as well as they would have turned out in April. People want 37 reversed and when you get 22,000 people to take their time, sign their name on a petition, we should listen and have an election now,” he said.

Assemblyman Chris Birch said during last April’s municipal election, voter turnout was only 20 percent. According to Birch, that’s roughly 40,000 voters.

“Whereas if we have a November election we see upwards to 100,000 voters, or a 50 percent turnout,” said Birch.

Birch, along with 5 other assembly members, concluded Tuesday that a vote on the labor law in November will be better because there is a higher voter turnout.

“That’s certainly good for the public and certainly good for the tax payers as well,” said Birch.

The six assembly members who backed the November date were Chris Birch, Jennifer Johnson, Ernie Hall, Adam Trombley, Amy Demboski and Bill Star.

The five who voted against the measure where Time Steele, Dick Traini, Elvi Gray-Jackson, Paul Honeman and Patrick Flynn.

AO-37 will now appear on the November 4general election ballot, providing the municipality can coordinate with the state.