"Pass the pay plan!"

Feb. 1 - Room 102 in the state capitol was packed yesterday with supporters of House Bill 13, the state employee pay plan.


Help us pass the pay plan! Your local legislators need to hear from you today. Contacting them is easy. Here’s how:


From 3:00-5:00 p.m., dozens of supporters testified in favor of the bill, asking the House Appropriations Committee to pass it.


No one spoke in opposition.


House Bill 13 is the product of negotiations between the state employee unions and Governor Schweitzer’s office. State law requires the governor to bargain in good faith with the labor representatives of state employees and bring a negotiated plan to the legislature.


House Bill 13 contains a modest salary increase for all state employees: 1% in 2012 and 3% in 2013.


Supporters included MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver. “You can do this [pass HB 13], and I believe you know you can do it,” Feaver told the committee.


Several MEA-MFT members also spoke: Steve Lewis, an English teacher at UM-Helena College of Technology; Bill Beehler, correctional officer at Montana State Prison; Jill Cohenor, a scientist at the state Environmental Lab; Rich Aarstad, historian at the Montana Historical Society; Jack Kirkley, biology professor at University of Montana-Western in Dillon; and Doug Coffin, professor at UM in Missoula.


Other supporters who testified included members and leaders of our sister unions, Montana Public Employees Association and AFSCME, MEA-MFT member and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, Cathy Burwell of the Helena Chamber of Commerce, and university presidents Waded Cruzado and Royce Engstrom.


“This was a first,” said Feaver. “I do not recall our two research university presidents ever standing together in support of a previous state and university pay plan.”


Tom Schneider, testifying for the Montana Public Employees Association, offered a bit of history on the pay plan: In 1991, the legislature failed to pass a state pay plan. In fact, 16 different pay plan bills circulated that session.


State employees eventually called a five-day statewide strike, which generated national news coverage and even closed down the interstate highways.


“The legislature and governor said, ‘We need to get a pay plan agreement before the legislature comes to town,’” Schneider recalled.


Since then, governors Marc Racicot, Judy Martz, and Brian Schweitzer have all negotiated a pay plan agreement with state employees and their unions prior to the legislative session, through what is called “pre-budget” bargaining.


“There is no reason you can’t take this pay package this session,” Schneider told legislators on the committee. “This is part of a handshake, and we did it in good faith.”


Passing HB 13 won’t be easy. Republicans who control both houses of the 2011 Legislature claim that Montana does not have enough revenue to fund it.


However, state budget director David Ewer testified that the state has enough revenue. “The governor is presenting you a balanced budget” that includes funding for the state pay plan, Ewer said. “Montana has $366 million in the bank today.”


Help us pass the pay plan! Your local legislators need to hear from you today. Contacting them is easy. Just click here and follow instructions. THANK YOU!


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