PERA — the acronym has been heard in city council chambers and will be seen on the ballot during a special election on March 19, but what is the Public Employment Relations Act and why is Seward voting on it?
Currently, the Seward City Council has control over the city’s labor policy, including employee organizing activity.
PERA’s role in Alaska employee relations is to protect the organizing and bargaining rights of public employees, unions and employers, according to the Alaska Labor Relations Agency, the agency responsible for implementing the act.
During a city council work session earlier this month, Justin Roberts, a general counsel attorney for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and Jennifer Alexander, an attorney with Birch, Horton, Bittner and Cherot, the city’s law firm, detailed the impacts of PERA on Seward.
“Once you opt in, you’re in. There’s no initiative, referendum or council vote that opts you out,” Alexander said.
If adopted, PERA would oversee the organization of public employees, but wouldn’t impact the relationship between the city and its employees. The agency would not enforce any other federal and state laws, though, including acts and statutes about fair labor, wage, hours, contract work hours, worker’s compensation and equal employment.
Instead, PERA would dictate union relation policy in the city and the Labor Relations Agency would handle any complaints and disputes pertaining to organizing activity.
PERA was adopted by Alaska in 1972 to tackle the issues of employee organization, and allow for good faith relations between public-sector employers, their employees and unions in Alaska.
In September 1975, Seward City Council rejected PERA citing that “it is in the public interest for the City to keep its options open so that it can properly react in the future, and not in the public interest to possibly become bound into the provisions of this act, and whatever amendments the legislature might pass in the future.”
Now, the irreversible decision to repeal this ordinance or not is being left to the voters during a special election on March 19.
“Going through all the different scenarios that could happen … It’s hard to know all the factual scenarios that will play out,” Roberts also said, explaining that the exact impacts of enacting PERA are hard to quantify.
Voting on Referendum No. 1 is now open at Seward City Hall from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until March 8. The election will be held on March 19.