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Assembly considers opening union negotiations to public

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Posted: Friday, December 7, 2012 12:00 am

FAIRBANKS—As a contentious labor negotiation nears its end, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly took its first look at three ordinances that would significantly alter future negotiations with unions.

The ordinances are proposed by assembly members Michael Dukes and Natalie Howard in the name of making union contract negotiations more transparent and open to the public. The ordinances were discussed during the body’s Thursday work session meeting.

Two ordinances deal directly with contract negotiations. One ordinance would make all contract negotiations, which are currently confidential, public. The other ordinance would determine the monetary policy for the borough’s three contracts. Those policies are typically set before each negotiation.

“This ordinance is consistent with the borough’s policy to conduct its business in open and transparent process,” Howard said. “It’s pretty straightforward.”

The ordinances would have the borough mimic the city of Fairbanks’ labor negotiations, which are open to the public.

The timing also came on the same day as the members of the newly formed union representing the borough’s 56 managerial employees ratified a tentative agreement. Those negotiations were not mentioned during the evening.

The ordinance setting monetary policy would do away with automatic raises linked to employee longevity and instead link pay raises to employee performance.

Dukes said he believed the goals contained in the proposed ordinance were consistent with current negotiating practices.

“All in all, you’re already attempting to make things standard and consistent across the board,” he said. “These are things you’re already striving to do for the most part.”

Assemblyman Karl Kassel expressed support for the ordinances’ goal of providing more openness to the public, but admitted there might be problems that he’s not aware of.

“The more transparent would make it better, but I’m wondering if there are more pitfalls that people who do this see that I’m not seeing.”

Borough Human Resources Manager Sallie Stuvek said the biggest change would be making negotiations public.

“I have only bargained in a confidential setting. I think opening it to the public may shorten the timeline because we may be a little more succinct,” she said, but added “there have to be some things that have to be done in confidential. The mediator would not have provided services if it wasn’t confidential.”

Howard said she’s willing to give room for mediation and other things that must be confidential.

A third ordinance proposes making the borough’s high-level department directors appointed positions. Most of those positions are currently members of the recently formed union and would become ineligible for representation under the new ordinance.

Dukes said the ordinance is aimed at making borough leadership a “more tightly knit faction.”

Alaska State Employees Association Business Manager Jim Duncan, who was involved with the recent labor talks, said the collection of ordinances is a concern for all labor groups and called the attempt to remove employees from the union “inappropriate.”

The Borough Assembly will hold a hearing and may vote on the ordinances at their next regular meeting on Dec. 13.

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 or follow him on Twitter: @FDNM

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