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Anchorage, unions seek quick decision from court on labor referendum

Posted: October 1, 2013 - 11:02pm

ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Supreme Court has been asked to make a rapid decision on the validity of a proposed referendum that could repeal a contentious city of Anchorage labor law.

Anchorage’s municipal attorney and union attorneys on Friday asked the court to decide by late January whether the law can be repealed by referendum.

The Anchorage Assembly in March approved an ordinance that prohibits union members from going on strike. The measure also eliminates binding arbitration.

Unions gathered signatures to force a public referendum on the measure.

The city argued that a referendum is invalid and that the labor law is too narrow and technical to be considered by voters. A Superior Court rejected that argument and the city appealed to the Supreme Court.

At the heart of the matter now is when a referendum can be scheduled.

Union members want a referendum vote at the next regular municipal election in April and say a court ruling by January would allow that.

Assembly supporters of the new law have proposed a public vote for April 2015. The delay is permitted under the city charter if the Anchorage Assembly votes to continue suspending the ordinance, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Unions in September turned in more than three times the number of signatures required to put the measure on the ballot.

Gerard Asselin, president of the union coalition pushing for repeal, said in a written statement that the earlier referendum date is preferable.

“The community wants to vote on this; city workers whose livelihoods depend on the outcome of this ordinance deserve to vote on this. It’s time to put an end to the wait,” Asselin said.

Assemblywoman Jennifer Johnston was a sponsor of a proposal to delay the vote. The delay was proposed to await the Supreme Court decision, she said, but also to ensure a maximum turnout.

The assembly’s next meeting is Oct. 8. The assembly will take testimony on the proposal to delay the referendum until 2015 and on a separate proposal to schedule the referendum for April.

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