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Alaska SC sides with city in contract dispute with union

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Apr 5, 2013

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Legal Newsline) -- The Alaska Supreme Court last week ruled in favor of the Municipality of Anchorage in a continued dispute over the city's contract with a union representing workers at its water and wastewater facility.

For more than a year, the city and Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 367 -- which represents more than 100 workers at the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility -- have been engaged in negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement.

The parties came to an agreement on many aspects of a new CBA but could not come to terms on several key points.

So the dispute was submitted to an arbitrator, as called for by the Anchorage Municipal Code.

The arbitrator issued a decision adopting the union's last best offer on the primary issue of across-the-board wage increases. The arbitrator's decision was then put before the Anchorage Assembly for approval. The assembly failed to approve the arbitrator's decision.

The union's employees voted to strike.

The city filed for a preliminary injunction before the strike was set to begin, arguing that the planned strike would threaten the public health, safety and welfare.

The union agreed that a strike by its employees would pose an unacceptable risk to the public and did not oppose issuance of a preliminary injunction.

Both parties then asked a superior court to enter a permanent injunction prohibiting the union from going on strike through June -- when the next round of collective bargaining is set to begin.

The union further asked the court to declare the arbitrator's decision binding upon the parties as a condition of entering the injunction -- to compensate for "taking away" its right to strike.

The city opposed the request and instead asked the superior court to issue a declaratory judgment -- that the arbitrator's award is unenforceable, that the parties are at an impasse in their negotiations, and that the city may implement its last best offer.

The superior court granted the permanent injunction and the municipality's request for declaratory judgment.

The union appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing the superior court erred as a matter of law in holding the municipal code limited its equitable power to impose contract conditions as part of a permanent injunction.

In a brief per curiam opinion filed March 29, the court affirmed the superior court's ruling "in all respects."

The court did not provide a detailed explanation for its decision to adopt the lower court's ruling.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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