Tension rising between Anchorage mayor, union

Posted: Tuesday, October 19, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Tensions are rising between Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan and a union for 550 city employees.

The Anchorage Daily News reports the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association sent a letter to the mayor Thursday rejecting a meeting to discuss ways the union could help balance the budget.

Union lawyer Charles Dunnagan wrote that members have already made sacrifices and concessions.

"We regard this as the 'slow train wreck' form of government," Dunnagan wrote. "This is government by deferred maintenance. The damage is real but not immediately apparent. You can save money in the short run but in the long run it is both stupid and dangerous."

Sullivan says the strident tone and personal nature of the letter crossed the line. He says employees will face more layoffs unless they agree to changes like wage freezes and shorter work weeks.

If that doesn't work, "then we'll have fewer personnel," Sullivan said Friday. "The ball's kind of in their court about which direction they want to go."

The mayor's administration met last week with police and fire unions. The Municipal Employees Association represents clerks, engineers, accountants and nurses.

The union contends that Sullivan has under-taxed Anchorage and that the administration has manufactured a budget crisis.

"Even if we taxed to the tax cap, we are still millions of dollars in deficit, so I don't know how anybody could say with a straight face that we don't have a budget gap," Sullivan said.

Sullivan has repeatedly blamed the administration of former Mayor Mark Begich for approving multiyear union contracts that he has said the city could not afford.

He calls the budget gap a structural problem, perpetuated year after year by poor planning.

"It's not solved by saying, 'If you give up a dollar today, I'll pay it back to you tomorrow,'" Sullivan said. "It has to be permanent savings or else we're fighting this budget battle every single year."

Municipal employees are not the cause of the high payroll expenses, says union President Mark McKee.

Part of the blame should go to executives at City Hall, he said.

"You always have to look at how many people you have at the top, and if the bottom keeps shrinking, you can't keep having that huge overhead of executives at that level," McKee said.

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