Legislature(1993 - 1994)
03/10/1994 03:00 PM L&C
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 255 - LOCAL EXEMPTION FROM PERA CHAIR HUDSON announced HB 255 as the next bill before the committee. He introduced Rep. Al Vezey as the prime sponsor of the bill and asked him to join members at the table. REP. VEZEY stated that Mr. Easaw was prepared to give the opening statement. Number 480 JOSEPH EASAW, JR., staff, Rep. Al Vezey, provided the following sponsor statement on HB 255: The intent of HB 255 is to allow municipalities the option of removing themselves from PERA (Public Employees Relation Act). Under this proposed legislation, a municipality could make such a decision with the approval of the voters of the municipality. It was the intent of the 1972 legislation to allow municipalities to opt out of PERA. As the law currently exists, a municipality under PERA, for all practical purposes, cannot remove themselves. This determination has been brought about by decisions of the court. This condition has resulted in diminished control over local self-determination. Existing legislation as interpreted by the courts has put local governing bodies in a position where one governing body can obligate all future governing bodies. This bill is intended to correct what the legislature has inadvertently allowed the court to mandate on local governments by placing the decision making process back into the hands of local governing officials and the people. Number 540 REP. SITTON asked what HB 255 would do to employees currently in collective bargaining agreements in municipalities. Number 548 MR. EASAW responded that if there is a collective bargaining agreement in place it will remain in effect. Number 555 REP. SITTON stated he saw the list of municipalities who had the chance to opt out of PERA and didn't and wondered if HB 255 was requested by them in order to give them another chance. Number 560 MR. EASAW replied that the intent of the language does not give any time frame for those municipalities to act. That decision came by court decision in 1975 in the case of Petersburg vs. State. Mr. Easaw stated that some interpret the decision to still allow municipalities to opt out. REP. MULDER asked if his understanding was correct that current law provides that municipalities will be included in PERA unless they opt out and HB 255 would change the law to say that PERA would not apply to municipalities unless the municipality holds an election as set out in subsection (b). MR. EASAW stated that under current statutes if you are a new municipality forming you have a reasonable amount of time to opt out of PERA. He said PERA does not permit a municipality to opt out of it after its employees have started to organize. Number 592 REP. MULDER asked if under HB 255 a municipality is out of PERA unless they opt in. Number 595 MR. EASAW replied that that was true. Number 600 CHAIRMAN HUDSON stated that it was his understanding that the court has ruled that a political subdivision may not opt out if there is any organizational steps being taken by the employees. Number 606 MR. EASAW stated that the court has said that you cannot opt out of PERA unless you have done so in a reasonable time frame after organization. Number 616 REP. PORTER asked if a city currently under PERA would be able to opt out of PERA without a vote of the people if HB 255 passed. Number 619 MR. EASAW replied that HB 255 expressly states that in order for a community to opt out they must go to a vote of the people. TAPE 94-22, SIDE A Number 001 MR. EASAW stated that as he understood labor contracts, if a negotiation is ongoing, the expired contract remains in effect. Number 020 REP. PORTER asked, if a city is currently in PERA, can they take a vote of the community to determine if they want to opt out? MR. EASAW answered that he was correct. CHAIR HUDSON asked Joan Wilkerson to testify. Number 057 JOAN WILKERSON, Southeast Regional Manager for APEA/AFT, testified in opposition to HB 255. Ms. Wilkerson stated she was also speaking for the Alaska AFL/CIO and its 50,000 members state wide. MS. WILKERSON provided the following statement for the record: We adamantly oppose HB 255, as should all supporters of collective bargaining because this bill is intended to do nothing less than eliminate collective bargaining for thousands of Alaska's workers. By establishing a revolving door system of opting in or out of PERA, the bill would not only deny the basic human right to collectively bargain with their employer to employees in political subdivisions which opt out of the system, but would also render meaningless the system left behind for those areas which continue to bargain with their employees, since the notion of "good faith bargaining" will cease to exist when an employer can always threaten to opt out if it doesn't like the way things are going in negotiations. The immediate practical effect of this legislation will be full employment for attorneys, to the detriment of both taxpayers and employee groups. The legal issues raised by an election to opt out while a collective bargaining agreement is in effect will tie both the courts and the labor relations agency in knots. Even where a healthy and viable bargaining relationship exists between the local government and its employees, a small number of anti-union voters in a community, sufficient to put the issue on the ballot by initiative, can require annual elections with the attendant expenditure of public and private resources better used elsewhere. PERA has governed public employment relations in this state for 20 years. There was nothing "inadvertent" about its intent to apply to political subdivisions. A floor amendment allowed a one-time "opt-out," of which many municipalities have made use. Some, such as Fairbanks and Cordova, have subsequently elected to opt back in. Some decisions must be final and binding. The decision to engage in good faith bargaining with employees is one such decision. We urge you to go on record in support of collective bargaining and keep this bill in committee. Number 150 CHAIRMAN HUDSON asked Ms. Wilkerson what the positive benefits of PERA were for municipalities as well as for employees. Number 152 MS. WILKERSON replied that the bill as it currently exists is essentially a bill of rights for public employees in the state of Alaska. It allows them to exercise their fundamental constitutional rights to association by virtue of their relationship with each other as employees of a public government, as a public entity. It creates and answers to the Alaska Labor Relations Agency. It permits corporations to form through the associations of these employees and to collectively bargain with employers. In her limited exposure to municipalities and boroughs who have opted out, the employees have virtually no rights at all. It was her understanding from PERA itself, that the initial intent of the legislature was that if a political subdivision was going to opt out of PERA, that they should pass an ordinance which would more or less take the place of PERA. She has seen this in action in a municipality in Southeast Alaska that did opt out and passed personnel rules which are so vague in nature that they do not afford the rights incumbent in PERA. The most basic of those rights, which are at issue right now, are the right to bargain, and for the employee the right to defend themselves through exercising the right to strike, or to send a matter to binding arbitration. Number 179 REP. PORTER stated that it was his understanding that if a municipality wanted to opt out of PERA they would have to provide some mechanism for bargaining. He added that he disagreed with Ms. Wilkerson regarding an employee's rights. He does not believe an employee would lose any rights if they were not in PERA. Number 193 MS. WILKERSON said she was not specifically speaking to the Anchorage Municipality, which Rep. Porter referred to, but she was speaking of another municipality. She added that it would be important to note that each municipality is different without PERA. Number 215 REP. MULDER stated that in 1992 the Anchorage teachers were included in PERA. He asked, if Anchorage has opted out of PERA, are the teachers out as well? Number 230 REP. PORTER answered that teachers are still in PERA. Number 235 REP. SITTON asked for an elaboration regarding binding arbitration noted in the resolution from the City of Fairbanks. REP. PORTER replied it only applied to Class 1 employees, which are only cops and firemen. Number 250 MS. WILKERSON added that binding arbitration was also dictated by statute. She stated that there were two kinds of binding arbitration: (1) interest arbitration -- the negotiation process itself and (2) the grievance process. Number 250 CLAUDIA DOUGLAS, President, National Education Association testified against HB 255 and SSHB 255. Ms. Douglas read the following statement for the record: The bill will allow municipalities or other political subdivisions, including school districts, to conduct an election to determine if employees are to continue under the provision of AS 23.40.070 - 23.40.260. Since the early 1970's state policy extended the statutory right to bargain to public employees. School employees struggled for over ten years to establish their rights under PERA. The schools and school employees have developed a successful pattern of bargaining under PERA for nearly four years. Bargaining provides public employees a good participatory way to influence decisions that affect the work place. At the bargaining table public employees share in the decision making process affecting wages and working conditions. They have become more responsive and better able to exchange ideas and information on operations with their administrators. Successful businesses are moving to management models designed to involve employees in a meaningful participatory role. Studies have shown that successful school reform occurs in school districts where mature bargaining relations exist. If SSHB 255 were to become law, labor relations between school districts and school employees would be disrupted. Good faith bargaining would give way to politics. Management and school boards would have greater latitude to delay and forestall the bargaining process. Some school districts could submit the question of continuance under PERA to voters annually or during each round of bargaining. In short the school, municipal, borough or state employee would lose. Inconsistency between units and school districts would occur. The bargaining process would be weakened and in some instances destroyed. The bill calls for a vote of the people. Who pays for the election? Will the election activate adversarial clashes between the special anti-labor groups with agendas opposed to working people? We live in a republic where representatives are elected to make decisions for their constituency in view of the public good. The issue of inclusion of school employees under PERA has been debated on the state level. A majority of the legislature, after weighing carefully the facts and information, decided it is good policy. In its declaration of the policy, it said, "the legislature finds that joint decision-making is the modern way of administering government." We urge you to oppose this bill. Number 308 CHAIRMAN HUDSON announced that he did not intend to move HB 255 at this time. He stated that he wanted the committee to hear the opposing sides. CHAIRMAN HUDSON adjourned the meeting at 5:02 p.m.