Unions assemble to test candidates

Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Five unions that represent many Juneau city employees angry over the current Assembly's labor record expected answers from prospective Assembly members Monday evening.

In a candidates' forum, union leaders asked four Assembly candidates - three of them vying for the at-large seat - to take a stand on issues that affect nurses, firefighters, police officers, teachers, bus drivers and other city employees. Their unions represent 900 people, almost half of the city's workers.

This was the first time these city unions got together to interview the candidates, said Paul Comolli, who represents 62 police officers.

It might be the first time the police union will openly endorse candidates.

"The common feeling is that the current city management lacks respect for city employees," Comolli said. "I think the labor unions need to represent a more unified front to ensure our needs are addressed."

Union representatives said they felt the need to hear the candidates, after the Assembly allowed the police chief to change shifts from 12 hours with more days off to eight per day, and to support the Bartlett Regional Hospital management after a long labor impasse.

Candidates from District 1 in the downtown area didn't attend the meeting. Comolli didn't invite incumbent Merrill Sanford because he said Sanford failed to support the police officers on the shift-change issue. Joan Cahill was out of town. Candidate Jonathan Anderson of District 2 in the Mendenhall Valley had to teach at the same time the forum was held.

All of the candidates who attended the meeting support the firefighters' right to arbitration.

"Part of my candidacy is to represent voices that are not on the table at City Hall," at-large candidate Mara Early said.

All said they would support an ordinance that would give the police union a right to bargain for working hours.

At-large candidate Bob Doll said that as former Alaska Marine Highway System director he has negotiated many times. He said if elected he would make sure city employees enjoy the same benefits as state employees.

All of the candidates said they would support a project labor agreement, which would require the city to hire local union workers for city projects.

Bob Millard, supervisor of the city's gravel pits, asked at-large candidate David Summers about the recent criticism by some members of Juneau Chamber of Commerce about the city competing with businesses selling gravel.

Summers, president of Juneau Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber board of directors hasn't taken a position on the issue.

"As a city, we need those materials," Summer said. "But undercutting the market too much would be a bad thing."

Teachers' union representative Deedie Sorensen asked the candidates if they would continue funding the Juneau School District to the state's cap or beyond it. All said they would.

"Our enrollment this year is lower than what we had in 1992," said District 2 candidate Andrew Green. "With the new high school coming, the fund will be stretched more. We need to support both high schools and maintain the quality of life of our teachers."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.

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