City of Anchorage Ordinance 37 "Responsible Labor Act" Veto Referendum (November 2014)

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A veto referendum ballot question against the "Responsible Labor Act," Ordinance 37, was on the November 4, 2014 election ballot for voters in the city of Anchorage, Alaska, where it was defeated. This referendum was originally set for the April 1, 2014 election ballot, but it was postponed by the mayor and city council until the November election.

Ordinance 37, known as the "Responsible Labor Act," was proposed in February 2013 by Mayor Dan Sullivan in the face of scheduled collective bargaining with the city's nine labor unions. The provisions of Ordinance 37 dictate:

  • limits on union pay raises with maximum increases of at most 1 percent over the five-year average Alaska inflation rate
  • the removal of striking rights from unions
  • the elimination of binding arbitration for financial disputes
  • the elimination of bonuses based on seniority or performance
  • the establishment of standardized health coverage for workers in all unions
  • the introduction of "managed competition," allowing the city to outsource some union worker jobs to private contractors
  • and a maximum length of three years for all bargaining agreements

The Anchorage City Assembly approved the ordinance in a six against five vote in March 2013. In response, the labor unions in Anchorage collected 22,136 signatures--more than three times the required threshold--in a veto referendum petition drive. A sufficient number of these signatures were validated by the city clerk, allowing voters a chance to overturn Ordinance 37 at the ballot box.[1][2]

Election results

Anchorage Ordinance 37 Veto Referendum
Defeatedd No58,02953.89%
Yes 49,643 46.11%
Election results from Alaska Division of Elections

Text of measures


DocumentIcon.jpg The full text of Ordinance 37 is available here.


Note: In this article, those in opposition to the veto referendum and in support of Ordinance 37 are referred to as "supporters."


  • Mayor Dan Sullivan

Arguments in favor

Supporters of Ordinance 37 argued that:[3]

  • The forced control of labor costs provided by Ord. 37 could allow more city employees to keep their jobs.
  • Prior to Ord. 37, the union employees could threaten to strike or find other employment, but the city had limited ability to seek other employees, giving unions an unfair advantage in bargaining.
  • Taking away the right to strike from public unions would allow the city some leverage in bargaining.
  • The financial well-being of the whole city should trump the interests of a few thousand public employees.

Mayor Sullivan responded to criticisms of the process used to establish Ordinance 37, saying, “Some people have said they don't like how the process has worked, but this is exactly how it's supposed to work. You introduce something, you kick the tires on it, the public gets a chance to comment, the employees, anybody who's an interested party, you get your two cents in.”[4]



Note: In this article, those in favor of the veto referendum and opposed to Ordinance 37 are referred to as "opponents."


The following groups and individuals supported the veto referendum:[1]

  • All nine municipal labor unions in Anchorage
  • Alaska Public Employee Association

Campaign video: Vote NO on Anchorage Ordinance 37!
  • Vince Beltrami, president of the AFL-CIO statewide federation of unions
  • Gerard Asselin, a police patrol sergeant, and then president of the Coalition of Municipal Unions and treasurer of the police union

Arguments against

Gerard Asselin said, "On the part of the mayor and his administration, it's [Ordinance 37] an attack on unions. But the downstream effect is, and the reality is, it's an attack on employees themselves and their own stability."[5]

Anchorage Fire Fighters Union president Rod Harris said, “There was no foresight, no notice to department heads, no discussion with labor unions. Nobody was brought into this discussion. This ordinance was done behind closed doors, with a select few people -- the process stinks.”[5]


Radio ads

Against Ord. 37

The Fire Fighters Union released a radio ad against Ordinance 37. In the ad, Rod Harris, president of the Anchorage Fire Fighters Union, said, "It's important that the full impact of any legislation is known before it is enacted. The future potential of this ordinance is still not clear."[6]

For Ord. 37

Click here to listen to the ad.

Mayor Sullivan's office, as part of its campaign in support of Proposition 37, circulated a radio ad explaining the benefits of his proposed "Responsible Labor Act." In the ad the mayor said, "Leaders of the Anchorage Assembly and I recently introduced the Responsible Labor Act, an ordinance that will improve the way future labor contracts are negotiated." He goes on to assure critics that, although the bill does allow for some currently-public service positions to be made open for bidding from the private sector, certain public services such as EMS, 911 and other safety services would not be considered for private bids.[6]

Rod Harris and other union workers expressed frustration about the Mayor's ad, saying that it did not tell the whole story and that they have not received adequate answers from the Mayor's office concerning problems with Ordinance 37, especially about EMS and managed competition.[6]

Box of signature petitions

Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing local ballot measures in Alaska

After Ordinance 37 was approved by the city assembly on March 26, 2013, the labor unions in Anchorage applied to begin a signature collection campaign to force a veto referendum election on the ordinance. The assembly rejected the petition for a referendum and, in the ensuing legal challenge, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth ruled in favor of the unions and ordered the referendum process to continue. According to the city charter, a new law is suspended if a signature petition seeking a referendum is turned in within 60 days of its effective date. With the original deadline 26 days away, the union petitioners asked Judge Aarseth to reset the 60-day clock because of the delays caused by the assembly and city clerk.[1][7][8]

Mayor Sullivan, who originally proposed the "Responsible Labor Act," said, “Quite frankly, we don’t mind it going to the ballot. I think the people will agree with us.”[3]

On September 20, 2013, the city appealed Judge Aarseth's ruling in Alaska State Supreme Court, but the appeal was eventually denied, and the court upheld the ruling in favor of the referendum petitioners.[8]

The unions needed 7,124 valid signatures to force a referendum vote. They turned in 22,136 signatures, which went through the validation process in the city clerk's office and were found to be more than sufficient. The Anchorage Assembly could have called for a special election, which, according to the city's deputy clerk for elections, Amanda Moser, would have cost an estimated $280,000. After the two court cases against the referendum delayed the process, however, city council members finally voted six against five to put the measure on the November election ballot.[1]

The assembly members that voted to have the referendum put on the November election were:[9]

  • Chris Birch
  • Jennifer Johnston
  • Ernie Hall
  • Adam Trombley
  • Amy Demboski
  • Bill Starr

The council members that voted against putting it on the November ballot, favoring an earlier election date, were:[9]

  • Dick Traini
  • Tim Steele
  • Elvi Gray-Jackson
  • Paul Honeman
  • Patrick Flynn

The dissenting council members said that putting the election date so far out was a move to slow down the momentum for the repeal of Ordinance 37. Traini said, “It’s a mistake by the body. The six that decided to ignore the 22,000 people that requested the vote on AO-37 [sic]. You know when those people signed their names they anticipated voting expeditiously on that thing. And you know it’s not going to help the people that want to keep AO-37 because those 22,000 people are going to grow. In November, they will repeal that critter.”[9]


The signatures for this referendum were collected in part by paid petition circulators and in part by volunteers.[1]

Seal of Anchorage

Details of the citizen referendum process in Anchorage

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Anchorage

Both the powers of initiative and referendum are reserved by the citizens according to the Anchorage city charter, except on the issues of budgets, mill levies, bond issues or the appropriation of funds. Both initiative and referendum petitions require signatures equal in number to at least 10 percent of voters that cast ballots in the immediately preceding regular mayoral election. Once petitions are filed with the city, the city clerk has 10 days to certify the sufficiency of valid signatures and the success of the petition. If certified, a referendum must be submitted to voters in a regular or special election within 75 days, unless the city assembly suspends the law in question, in which case the referendum can be put on a later ballot.

A referendum petition can be filed at any time after the approval of a city ordinance or resolution. But, in order to suspend the law, the petition must be filed within 60 days after the effective date of the approved ordinance or resolution. The suspension terminates if the city clerk finds the petitions to be insufficient or upon certification of a majority vote against repeal. A referendum petition is void if the assembly repeals the ordinance in question prior to the election. The city assembly is not allowed to re-enact a measure vetoed through the referendum power for at least two years after the referendum election.[7]


When union supporters filed for a referendum petition, the city rejected the application on the grounds that the ordinance did not fall under the power of initiative and referendum but was administrative and belonged to the city assembly and not the voters. In the ensuing court case in Anchorage Superior Court, Judge Eric Aarseth ruled in favor of the unions and ordered the city to issue the appropriate petition documents and allow the process to go forward.[1]

On September 20, 2013, City Attorney Dennis Wheeler announced that Anchorage would be appealing Judge Aarseth's ruling to the Alaska Supreme Court. The city did this despite the fact that Mayor Sullivan was in favor of a referendum vote. Mayor Sullivan believed the citizens would uphold his "Responsible Labor Act" if it was put before them in an election. City officials said that the court appeal would establish important precedents on a variety of issues surrounding the referendum and initiative power, going beyond the scope of just the mayor's labor law. Wheeler, in his statement announcing the appeal, wrote, "Because the standards for determining the legal sufficiency of future referendums or initiatives that address legislative or administrative matters is such an important principle in the administration of fair elections, the Municipal Clerk's Office is following the Municipal Attorney's advice to appeal the court's decision on the referendum." He went on to say, "The results of the Court's decision on this appeal will be far-reaching and will guide future municipal officials. The Municipality and its citizens can only benefit from the clarity and guidance to be gained from the Alaska Supreme Court's decision on this appeal."[10]

The appellate Alaska Supreme Court upheld the ruling in favor of labor unions and petitioners, ordering the referendum to be put on the ballot.[11][9]

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