State pay plan bargaining begins

Sept. 27, 2010 – “Stick together.” That was MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver’s advice to state employees as they began a new round of contract negotiations with the governor’s office this fall.


The state employee unions’ joint bargaining team, including about 60 members of MEA-MFT, the Montana Public Employees Assoc., and Montana AFSCME, met in Helena Sept. 27.


Feaver welcomed team members, saying, "Whether we can come up with an agreement with the administration on a justifiable and rational salary increase is not certain. But regardless of whether we reach agreement or take our own proposal to the legislature, we all must be together."

Feaver told the group that major questions about the state's fiscal capacity can’t be answered at this time.


"The governor's budget won't be released until November, and even then we'll still have questions about how much revenue the state will have for the next biennium," he said.


Feaver encouraged the group to be patient in developing a proposal and to keep in touch as the process unfolds.


State employees agreed to a two-year pay freeze during the last round of bargaining. But they are not prepared to do it again.


“State employees have sacrificed a lot for two years,” said MEA-MFT Field Consultant Tom Burgess, who is working with the unions’ bargaining team.


“It’s our position that we’re bargaining an increase for our members. To make it happen, we will need all of our state employee members to get engaged at the local level.”


It starts with electing legislators who support state employees, Burgess said. “Our members need to work diligently to elect people from their areas who understand the need, and support, for public services. “


Who are the candidates who support public services? Hundreds of MEA-MFT members have spent hundreds of hours interviewing the candidates and making recommendations. You’ll find the recommendations in your September/October issue of MEA-MFT Today. You’ll also find them in the Members Only section of this web site.


The idea behind pre-budget bargaining is to complete an agreement between state employees and the administration before the budget is set, so that state employees and the governor can jointly bring a pay plan to the legislature.


The next bargaining date is set for October 18. The union bargaining team members will meet beforehand to prepare a draft proposal.


Winning a pay increase in this economic climate won’t be easy. But freezing state salaries will hurt the state’s economy even more. State employees not only provide services that keep the economy functioning, they spend money in the economy. Freezing their pay freezes their ability to contribute to the economy.


“If you take state employees out of the economic mix, Montana will be in much worse shape,” said MEA-MFT member Debbie Willis, a probation & parole officer in Billings.


Maxine Mougeot, a state employees’ bargaining team member who works for the Office of Public Instruction in Helena, says she understands the economic reality. “But somehow, people who work for the State of Montana should not be at a level where they could apply for food stamps,” she said. “They should be paid well enough to own their home and raise their children. It’s not happening anymore.”


“Our members are true stewards of public services,” said Burgess. “It’s time we bargain salary and benefit increases in order to maintain these valuable employees.”


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