A mediator has been called in to help with labor talks between the state and its largest employee organization after the union declared the two sides are at an impasse.
``We've got 10 to 11 areas that we're pretty far apart on,'' Alaska State Employees Association Business Manager Chuck O'Connell said. Wages and health insurance are the major areas of disagreement, he said.
Department of Administration Commissioner Bob Poe disagreed that the two sides are at an impasse, but said the services of a federal mediator could help. ``We believe a mediator would be important to bring ASEA back to the economic realities of the state,'' he said.
Calling the stall-out in talks an ``impasse'' has legal significance because negotiations must be at an impasse before union members can strike.
``It brings us one step closer (to strike) . . . but that's not the goal,'' O'Connell said. ``Our goal's to reach an agreement.''
Poe said the state is offering all its employee unions the same basic three-year package: a $1,200 one-time payment in the first year; a 2 percent increase in base pay in the second year; and a 3 percent increase in base pay in the third year.
The state also has offered to contribute $515 per employee toward health care premiums in the first year; $575 per employee in the second year; and $630 in the third year. The state currently provides $488.50 for ASEA members' health care, with employees contributing $84.50.
What the state is offering is not enough, according to O'Connell.
``What we're asking for is inflation-proofing the contract and they're offering less than that and it's a problem,'' O'Connell said.
Poe said ASEA's expectations are unrealistic. ``ASEA's proposal, just the bare bones of it, is over twice the cost of what we're proposing.''
ASEA members have already authorized their executive board to call a strike if the two sides are at an impasse or if the Legislature rejects the terms of an agreement that is reached.
Poe said he doesn't believe the two sides are truly at an impasse yet.
``Impasse is where you're just not getting anywhere, and we think there's still things to negotiate,'' he said.
Poe said other employee unions have been more receptive of the state's proposal, and he expects the state will reach agreements with some of them ``very soon.''
The state either is already in negotiations, or soon will be, with all 12 of its employee unions. ASEA is the largest of the unions, with about 7,200 members. About 2,000 of them work in Juneau.
Any contracts would have to be approved by the state Legislature if they call for spending more money. Legislative leaders have said they don't expect to approve higher-cost contracts.