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Borough considers opening labor negotiations to public

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Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 11:54 pm

FAIRBANKS — Opening labor negotiations to the public hasn’t caused significant problems for the city of Fairbanks, city and labor representatives said, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right match for the borough.

The Borough Assembly is considering making labor negotiations open to the public as part of a package of ordinances, which is largely based on the city of Fairbanks’ current practices, to alter how it handles unions.

The assembly will consider three labor-related ordinances tonight. The first will make all substantive negotiations between the borough administration and labor groups open to the public, another will set the assembly’s fiscal goals for contracts into code. Both ordinances are modeled after the city.

A third will convert certain high-level positions appointed by the mayor, effectively removing them from the union. Unlike the previous ordinances, there is no similar format in the city of Fairbanks.

Fairbanks Mayor Jerry Cleworth said the open negotiations have not caused a problem since they were introduced 20 years ago and said fears that the process would be interrupted never formed.

“We’ve been doing that for about 20 years,” he said. “The claim was that nothing would be done in public and that people would come and disrupt the meetings. We found that some of the unions had no problems with it and others did not like it, the reality was that their fears never materialized.”

But that’s because public attendance at the negotiations is poor at best.

“The reality is that virtually no one ever comes,” he said.

Laborers Local 942 Business Agent Kevin Pomeroy, who handles negotiations with for the city’s public works union and the borough’s transportation union, said the open meetings haven’t been disruptive for the city.

He added that the city contracts and borough contracts are different.

“It sounds like you’re comparing apples to apples at the end of the day it’s not comparing apples to apples because it’s a different process,” he said. “There haven’t been the issues from the workers side or city’s side that the borough has.”

He said the borough’s contracts have recently filled with conflict and controversy among the employees, the administration and the assembly in recent years. The drivers for the borough’s paratransit system, which Pomeroy helps represent, took deep pay cuts to help the borough deal with the program’s rising cost.

The borough’s recently unionized managerial employees also are reaching the end of a contentious negotiation on their first contract.

Pomeroy said the open contract negotions with the city are not problematic because they can lean back on 20 years of doing it the same way, additionally most of the city’s contracts are based on formulaic funding that both the city and the unions have come to expect.

“This seems to be the new starting point for the borough so you don’t have the history to fall back onto,” he said.

The Borough Assembly will meet at 6 p.m. tonight in the borough chambers. It will hold public testimony and could vote on the ordinances starting at 7 p.m.

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

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