Sitka’s city government is gearing up to renegotiate contracts with the four unions representing its workforce. When the Sitka Assembly met on Tuesday (11-23-21), it went behind closed doors with legal counsel for a little over an hour to discuss the city administration’s strategy for the upcoming contract negotiations over salaries and benefits.

Most city employees are represented by one of four unions — the Public Safety Employees Association, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), and the Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA). The last time the city negotiated new contracts and raises for its police officers, firefighters and public works employees was in 2019. 

City Administrator John Leach said that they were looking to get a jump start on the negotiation process which will kick off in the new year.

“We’re really just looking for the Assembly’s guidance on some bargaining strategy and just your overall guidance and kind of what you’re looking for what expectations are before we go into those bargaining sessions,” Leach said.

The assembly went behind closed doors with outside legal counsel Kimberly Garrity for a little over an hour. When the group returned, it did not discuss union negotiations any further. But during public comment, David Nelson, who works at the Sitka Police Department and leads the local police union, gave a small glimpse into what might be on the table. 

“I know we’re all a little bit stressed. I know we’re all looking at the consumer price index. I know we’re all looking at inflation in terms of fuel and groceries and those things. But I do look forward to working with you all,” Nelson said.

Nelson said he would send the Assembly an email with information he’d gathered from a union meeting in Anchorage earlier this month. But that led City Attorney Brian Hanson to interject. 

“I think the Assembly needs to be careful not to get involved in direct negotiations with any of the union members or their management,” Hanson said. “We’ve got to be careful. We have obligations to the union to negotiate directly with the union and not have union members directly negotiate with the ultimate decision makers, and that’s the Assembly. So, I’m not criticizing you for coming up here, I’m just thinking we’re at a point where we’re about ready to cross that line.” 

Nelson said any information he shared would be public and agreed that he would not pursue any negotiations at the Assembly table. 

The assembly’s negotiations with the unions will be spread out over the spring and summer of 2022.