As many readers may know I returned to full-time employment earlier this year, which might help explain the relative dearth of recent blog posts. Sorry about that. But increased interaction with people generally less involved with the political process has the benefit of providing perspective one might not otherwise enjoy. So I’ve appreciated my co-workers’ recent questions about the current kerfuffle between the Plumbers & Pipefitters union and the city.
For those who missed it, the union and the administration have been bargaining for roughly two years but didn’t reach full agreement. Following the process dictated in municipal code they submitted their case to an arbitrator, who approved the items on which they’d tentatively agreed (TA’d), found for the city on a couple items and found for the union on the big item – wages. Those findings required eight Assembly votes in order to be enacted but only achieved seven. A strike vote was held and, with the union and municipal attorneys coordinating efforts, a judge issued a temporary restraining order requiring the employees to keep working while said judge decides what should happen next (most likely imposition of the arbitrator’s decision). And, in an eleventh-hour effort, the Assembly has called a special meeting on September 7 to consider offering additional guidance to the administration.
It all amounts to dramatic political theater but, when viewed through an historic lens, doesn’t really amount to much – we’ve seen this serial before. Anchorage’s brief municipal history includes several administrations promising to “get tough” with labor. That philosophy generally manifests itself with “hard” negotiations, or none at all, that actually lead to a worse result for the city and this situation is a textbook case. Here’s how:
In short, it’s no wonder we lost at arbitration and won’t be a surprise if we lose again in court. What’s more, I’m told there are a myriad of grievances filed by various municipal employees where the administration has declined to negotiate a reasonable settlement. Those are likely headed to arbitration as well and historically the city has lost in similar situations. Put another way, a “get tough” stance with the city’s represented employees often results in higher costs than working with them (and working with them does not mean capitulating to their every whim!).
But fear not, important achievements have been attained. Those who stake their political allegiances with those who want to “get tough” on labor can now credibly say they’ve done just that, though they won’t mention the increased costs. Meanwhile those who’ve pledged to stand with working men and women can similarly say they’ve lived up to their word. And, of course, the fourth estate has fodder for its daily missives.
The only losers are those who desire efficient and effective local government, but that’s a small population generally ignored by politicians.
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