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By Dan Rudy 

City seeks extension in labor legal dispute


The City and Borough of Wrangell and the public employees union remain on course to pursue litigation in an ongoing collective bargaining dispute.

Since the expiration in June 2014 of the current collective bargaining agreement between the city and workers represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1547, both sides have been unable to come to terms on a new agreement. Though expired, the 24 employees represented by the union are currently still being compensated under the terms of the old CBA.

Mediation undertaken through the spring of 2015 did not resolve the dispute, with last best offers rejected by both parties during the summer. Legal representation was formally involved that September, with use of a third-party arbitrator to settle the disagreement suggested. Discussions continued into 2016, with Anchorage-based arbitrator Robert Landau identified as an agreeable selection. But disagreements over the terms and scheduling of arbitration have led to the city’s withdrawal from that process last month.

CBW filed a complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief with the state Superior Court, and a motion to enjoin and stay arbitration on Sept. 8. Judge Trevor Stephens granted expedited consideration at the city’s request the next day, with a briefing schedule and oral arguments set for Sept. 20. In addition to two unfair labor practice charges filed with the Alaska Labor Relations Agency, the union followed up the city’s action with a motion to compel arbitration.

After considering the available information, Stephens had ruled in favor of the city’s request to stay arbitration on September 28, denying IBEW’s request to compel. The court found that union-represented employees of the city were in this case not statutorily entitled to binding interest arbitration, and that an arbitrator was not in the position to decide that the union and employer must so engage.

In the order, Stephens noted the city and union are heading for potentially lengthy and expensive litigation, and that while some progress had been made between the two parties the court’s decision to stay did not preclude reaching a settlement.

“The court has not issued any orders in this case that in any way prevent the parties from continuing to negotiate, engaging in mediation, or from expeditiously agreeing to arbitrate and arbitrating,” he wrote. “The parties doing so would not prejudice either party’s position(s) in this case.”

On October 11, IBEW submitted a letter to the city offering to resolve the lawsuit. In the letter, counsel Justin Roberts expressed the union’s willingness to agree to non-binding, “baseball interest” arbitration as requested by the city. In that scenario, the arbitrator would be limited in the offer options available to choose between, a decision which would not be binding for either party.

There were several terms outlined in this offer, including retaining Landau as arbitrator and meeting with him for interest arbitration by December 23. If a hearing date is selected, the parties would jointly move to hold litigation and unfair labor practice charges in abeyance pending the results of that arbitration.

The letter noted that if a hearing date is not agreed upon by November 1, the two parties shall continue on their current course. It considered the addition of any continuance requests to be grounds for reactivating those proceedings.

On October 14 the city proceeded to file just such a request, with its attorney Bob Blasco requesting a continuance of six months from November 17, or to May 17, 2017. The reason given was to allow for discovery, a pretrial procedure allowing parties to obtain evidence from the other party or parties by request, as well as to respond to the points presented in the union’s motion for summary judgment.

“The union’s answer to the (Borough’s) complaint, however, by disputing many of the Borough’s factual assertions, puts this case’s factual assertions in dispute,” Blasco wrote.

On Monday IBEW filed an opposition to the city’s request for extension of time, with its counsel Serena Green contending “the entirety of the evidence of the contract negotiations has already been produced,” and that “further discovery would not produce evidence not already on the record.”

“The delay would condemn the union to another year of bargaining limbo and may require the union to proceed to a strike vote,” the document concluded.

Stephens had by Tuesday’s press time not ruled on the city’s motion for extension. He is due in Wrangell on November 14 for its regularly scheduled court week. A scheduling hearing in the case for setting trial and pre-trial deadlines has been set for November 17.

Due to the nature of ongoing negotiations and impending legal action, both parties declined to comment on the story.


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