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City Council OKs New Three-year Contract With Unionized Police, Fire, Dispatch Workers

KUAC file photo

The Fairbanks City Council last night approved a new three-year contract for the city’s unionized 70 police and fire department workers and dispatchers.All five council members present at Monday night’s meeting voted for the new collective bargaining agreement with members of the local Public Safety Employees Association. Councilman Jerry Cleworth was absent. Cleworth’s opposition to a 2013 contract led to a four-and-a-half year legal fight with the union, before the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city earlier this year. Since then, the PSEA employees worked under the terms of a previous contract.

A fiscal note says the new contract will cost the city an additional $250,000 annually.

Before the vote, Councilman David Pruhs asked Mayor’s Chief of Staff Mike Meeks about an agreement to reduce the number of city police officers to afford the new contract.

“We agreed in executive session we’d be paying this (by) reducing the number of officers from 47 to 43,” Pruhs said, “and I do not see that as a reduction in our budget amendments here.”

Meeks headed up the city’s side of the contract negotiating team. He told Pruhs that it was understood that discussion didn’t affect the number of officers the city can employ.

“What we agreed-on was not formally reducing,” Meeks said. “We’re just not going to fill it. And quite frankly, there’s not a chance they’re going to fill (them) this year anyway.”

After the vote, Fairbanks Police Chief Eric Jewkes, who’s about to retire, thanked both city officials and negotiators of the PSEA Fairbanks Police Department Chapter.

“I’ve negotiated on both sides of this,” Jewkes said, “and, not that we didn’t disagree or didn’t argue about things, but it was always very professional. And they certainly displayed that they have an interest in not only the benefit of the membership, but they understand that the operation of the police department – they’re part of this police department – so they’re concerned about making sure that it functions properly.”

Meeks took the opportunity to cite the city’s progress in relations with its union employees.

“I would like to point that this is probably the first time in probably 13 years that have four unions and four contracts – signed,” he said, as many in the audience broke out into applause.

Also Monday, the council introduced an ordinance to allow on-site consumption of marijuana at authorized retail shops. The measure was cosponsored by council members Shoshana Kun and Kathryn Ottersten. The council will review the proposed measure in an April 4 workshop and will likely schedule a public hearing and possible final approval on April 8.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.