Deal reached on state employee pay

6-6-13

 

Governor Steve Bullock’s administration and Montana’s state employee unions have reached an agreement to institute pay raises over each of the next two years.  The 2013 Legislature appropriated a lump sum of about $56 million to the executive branch to negotiate raises with Montana’s public servants.

 

For most state employees, the agreement will translate into a 3 percent base pay raise in 2013 and a 5 percent raise in 2014.  Most state workers have not had a raise in their base pay since 2008.

 

“In national study after national study, Montana continually ranks as one of the best places to start a business or start a family.  It’s our dedicated, talented and hard-working public servants who help make that a reality,” Bullock said. 

 

The agreement reached today also ensures there will be no increases in health insurance premiums for members of the state’s self-insurance pool.

 

Two news stories about the pay plan follow, plus one on university system pay: 

State reaches deal on pay increases for employees

Associated Press – Missoulian – June 6, 2013

 

Gov. Steve Bullock and state employee unions announced a deal Wednesday for across-the-board pay increases starting next month.

 

The Montana Public Employees Association said that upon ratification, employees will get a 3 percent raise starting in July and another 5 percent raise in November 2014. The governor's office said that most employees have not had a pay raise since 2008.

 

Union executive director Quinton Nyman said bargainers tried to get the largest raises possible as soon as they could with the money allotted by the Legislature.

 

"I think this affects members positively. The bargaining team was unanimous in their acceptance of this," Nyman said. "Folks need a raise now."

 

Lawmakers rejected an original deal bargained last year, which called for pay raises of 5 percent each of the next two years. The Republican-led Legislature cut the overall price tag by about 25 percent, to about $113 million for all areas of government, and told Gov. Steve Bullock to divvy up the smaller amount of money.

 

Republican legislative leaders said they were unhappy with the way former Gov. Brian Schweitzer's administration engineered raises for some employees under the pay freeze and asked Bullock to consider focusing the pay raises on lower-paid employees.

 

But Bullock was not bound by the request, and unions sought a deal as close as possible to the original pay raises of 5 percent each year.

 

"In national study after national study, Montana continually ranks as one of the best places to start a business or start a family. It's our dedicated, talented and hardworking public servants who help make that a reality," Bullock said in a statement. "This pay plan represents a fair pay increase for the snowplow drivers, nurses, biologists, firefighters and other state employees who go to work every day for all of us."

 

Unions, who saw the Legislature ignore their bargained pay plans in 2011 and 2013, said the system is broken and needs attention. An interim committee of lawmakers could study the issue.

 

"It is a pretty convoluted process to bargain one thing with the governor, and then have the Legislature try to figure out something else, and just kick the ball down the road to us to do something else altogether," said Eric Feaver, who runs the MEA-MEFT union. "I think that the unions, the administration and the Legislature, all three parties, need to fashion a better way of doing business."
 


Montana reaches deal on pay increases for employees

BY CHARLES S. JOHNSON GAZETTE STATE BUREAU – JUNE 6, 2013

 

HELENA — Public employee unions and the Bullock administration reached agreement in a little more than an hour Wednesday to give most state employees a 3 percent pay raise in July, followed by a 5 percent increase in November 2014.

 

Most state workers haven’t seen a raise in their base pay in four years.

 

The deal also provides that members of the state’s self-insurance pool won’t see out-of-pocket increases in health insurance premiums before January 2015.

 

The across-the-board pay raises will take effect in the pay periods that include July 1, 2013, and Nov. 15, 2014.

 

The pay agreement will cost $53 million, with the insurance freeze adding $3 million.

 

Unions had reached an agreement last summer with Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer for pay raises of 5 percent in 2013 and 2014. Gov. Steve Bullock, also a Democrat, embraced the deal.

 

But the Republican-controlled 2013 Legislature stripped the 5 percent raises from the bill and cut its funding by 25 percent, leaving it up to Bullock to negotiate with unions for what was left.

 

Many GOP lawmakers were upset the Schweitzer administration had found ways to give pay raises to more than half of executive branch employees during a pay freeze. The bill asked — but didn’t order — Bullock to target the raises at those who hadn’t received pay hikes and lower paid workers.

 

The pay deal covers all of the 11,700 executive branch employees, minus nearly 800 blue-collar workers who have their own plan. Blue-collar workers will get hourly raises of 92 cents in fiscal 2013, which begin July 1, and 97 cents the next year, which Bullock said honors the legislative directive that lower-wage workers see an increase.

 

About 60.5 percent of the 11,700 executive branch employees are union members.

 

Excluded from the deal are the executive branch employees of the Montana university system and the Montana State Fund. The legislative and judicial branches also aren’t covered. These agencies negotiate their own pay deals with employees.

 

Bullock praised the deal as “a fair pay increase for the snowplow drivers, nurses, biologists, firefighters and other state employees who go to work every day for all of us.”

 

“In national study after national study, Montana continually ranks as one of the best places to start a business or start a family,” Bullock said. “It’s our dedicated, talented and hardworking public servants who help make that a reality. “

 

Reaction among union leaders was mixed.

 

“I’m pleased with it in the sense we’re getting money to people as soon as possible,” said Quinton Nyman, executive director of the Montana Public Employees Association. “I had a lot of calls from folks that there was going to be no pay raise or a paltry one. It’s pretty close (to what was negotiated). Two percent shy is not bad.”

 

MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver criticized the state’s collective bargaining process.

 

“There was little the bargaining team could do,” he said. “The legislative session directed the money, and they distributed the money. The administration came with four proposals. We made an offer and sweetened it slightly, and the administration accepted it. Are people walking away with a sense of victory and accomplishment? No, they are not.”

 

Timm Twardoski, executive director of Montana Council 9 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, agreed.

 

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” he said. “We’re not where we want to be. We’re also frustrated with the process. The governor did the right thing by an across-the-board agreement.”

 

Unions on Wednesday originally proposed matching 5 percent raises in July 2014 and July 2015 but only for bargaining unit (or union) members. The administration’s chief negotiator, Paula Stoll, rejected that deal.

 

Stoll said she had explicit directions from the administration that the deal wouldn’t exceed the amount she was authorized to negotiate and that the raises would go to union as well as nonunion members.

 

“I think it should be for all employees,” Twardoski said. “I hope nonunion and management employees recognize the work. We do for a lot of them.”

 

The 2009 Legislature, at unions’ request, froze state workers’ pay because of falling state revenues during the recession. In 2011, the Legislature refused to pass pay increases negotiated by public opinions and the Schweitzer administration.

 

Individual locals are in the process of negotiating new contracts with the administration. Members will vote whether to ratify these contracts, which will include the pay and insurance deal. If that occurs after July 1, employees will receive their raises, retroactively to the July 1 pay period.

 


 

U-System working on own pay deal with employees

BY CHARLES S. JOHNSON GAZETTE STATE BUREAU JUNE 6, 2013

 

HELENA — The Montana university system isn’t covered by the state pay deal reached Tuesday, and its chief labor negotiator said he doesn’t know for sure yet what kind of agreements will be reached.

 

Kevin McRae, associate commissioner of higher education for communications and human resources, said the university system is now in the collective bargaining process with 25 bargaining units that represent nearly 4,000 employees.

 

The Bullock administration and public employee unions on Wednesday agreed to provide most state executive branch employees with a 3 percent raise in July and a 5 percent increase in November 2014. In addition, the deal provides that members of the state’s self-insurance pool won’t see out-of-pocket increases in health insurance premiums before January 2015.

 

The university system will come up with its own separate deals with bargaining units.

 

“We are kind of in a tough spot,” McRae said.

 

He said the university system wasn’t funded to match a pay agreement like the one negotiated for most executive branch employees and can’t raise more money through tuition increases.

 

“We are in a tight spot compared to other state agencies,” McRae said. “On the other hand, we do have meaningful funding. We are appreciative to the Legislature for that funding, and we intend to use it to make meaningful improvements in salaries and raises for faculty and staff.

 

“And we will do our very best to improving compensation for our faculty and staff, who are very deserving of compensation improvements for the great, dedicated effort they give to Montana students.”

 

State agencies originally were fully funded in House Bill 13 to provide 5 percent raises in each of the next two years for executive branch employees. However, McRae said, the university system was given only about half the money to cover for the two 5 percent raises.

 

Then the Legislature stripped out the 5 percent raises and reduced funding for raises by 25 percent for executive branch agencies and left it up to the Bullock administration to reach a deal with unions.

 

“We didn’t get quite that big of a cut, but we went into it funded only at about 50 percent to get the 5 and 5 (percent raises),” McRae said.

 

When the Legislature fails to appropriate enough to cover the cost of pay raises, the university system typically makes up the difference by raising student tuition, McRae said.

 

However, tuition for Montana students will be frozen for two years under an agreement between the Board of Regents and the Schweitzer and Bullock administrations that was endorsed by key legislators. The Legislature provided sufficient money to prevent tuition increases.

 

McRae said he believes the university system’s health plan is in good shape and should be able to maintain premium rates to protect members and the self-insured plan from any substantial out-of-pocket increase. However, he said the system cannot guarantee a freeze.

 

 

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