State pay plan (HB 13) passes

Mar. 11: Governor Brian Schweitzer has signed HB 13 (Hunter), the state pay plan, into law.

 

The plan passed both House and Senate by wide margins.

 

About the pay plan: MEA-MFT’s state employee members ratified the state pay plan agreement in January by mail-in ballot. The agreement was negotiated by members of MEA-MFT and our sister unions, the Montana Public Employees Association (MPEA) and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

 

The state House of Representatives passed HB 13 Jan 28.Not what we hoped for: “This is not the pay plan we had hoped for,” said Kathleen Logan, an MEA-MFT member at the State Hospital in Warm Springs and member of the state employee unions’ bargaining team.


Our expectations were much higher. We wanted a 6 percent increase for all state employees. But we had to face reality: the money is not there anymore. When we started bargaining, the state had a $1 billion budget surplus.”


In the last few months, she said, “Montana has lost more than $700 million dollars in revenue, and the cuts keep coming.”


No small change: Still, the pay plan amounts to $24 million in new money for state employees, and that’s no small change at a time when the economy is crashing, noted bargaining team member and MEA-MFT member Joel Felix, a scientist at the state Department of Public Health and Human Services. The $24 million would not have happened with-out the hard work of the state employee bargaining team.


$19.9 million of the new money goes to help pay more of employee health insurance premiums.


‘Reopener’ language: The state employees’ team also won language that would reopen negotiations if the state’s fiscal situation improves and the governor calls a special session.


“That’s huge,” noted MEA-MFT Field Consultant Tom Burgess. “We’ve never had reopener language before.”


In addition, the state employees’ team bargained language requiring state agencies to negotiate with their unions if they plan to lay off more than 25 employees. “We’ve never had that language before, either,” Burgess said. “This will allow employees to have a say in how layoffs take place.”


Members and staff of MEA-MFT, MPEA, and AFSCME are now working with the governor’s office to shepherd the pay plan agreement, HB 13, through the legislature. “United we stand, and with an economic agreement in hand, we will stand stronger,” said MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver.


“The governor will fight with us for this agreement. He is a powerful ally. Still, we have a long, uphill battle to fight. We’ll need our members to help by contacting their state senators.”


Feaver noted that the pay plan agreement is just the economic part of the package for state employees. “It is separate from local bargaining,” he said. “MEA-MFT will be working hard to improve state employees’ working conditions through their local contracts.”


Sponsor’s remarks: “State employees are some of the most dedicated, hard-working people I’ve ever known,” said sponsor Rep. Chuck Hunter during his testimony on HB 13.


“They are the people who protect our most vulnerable citizens—children, seniors, and disabled folks. They are the folks who keep our communities and neighborhoods safe. For years, our state employees have struggled with budget cuts, staff shortages, hiring freezes, and salaries that don’t keep up with the cost of living.”


Rep. Hunter continued, “While this bill isn’t everything I would like, HB 13 does give a higher percentage increase to those at the bottom of the salary schedule. House Bill 13 is what our state budget can afford in these tough times.”


Thank you, bargaining team! Members of MEA-MFT, along with members of MPEA and AFSCME, worked hard to hammer out a state pay plan agreement with the governor’s office. It’s never an easy task—but this year has been especially tough, with the sudden crash in the economy and state revenues.


Over 40 state employees, all rank-and-file union members, participated in pay plan negotiations over the past eight months. “There’s been a lot of dedication on this team,” said MEA-MFT Field Consultant Tom Burgess. MEA-MFT members on the team are listed below:


• Linda Nichols, State Prison

• Kathy Logan, State Hospital

• Rob Nichols, State Hospital

• Mike Fitzpatrick, Prof. Interdisciplinary Fed.

• Mike Moorman, Women’s Prison

• Joel Felix, Public Health & Human Services

• Steve Sprague, Dept. of Revenue

• Floyd Clevidence, Pine Hills

• Rewena Harrington, MT Historical Society

• Beth McKenzie, Dept. of Revenue