Union, state contract heads to supervisors

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Palin administration has reached a labor agreement with its largest union without a contract, the Alaska Public Employee's Association's Supervisory Unit, possibly staving off a strike.

The tentative agreement still needs approval by the union's membership in a vote expected to begin Wednesday, and a rejection would mean a strike, said Bruce Ludwig, APEA business manager.

The agreement got a strong endorsement from the top leaders at the Department of Administration, which handles contract negotiations, but only lukewarm support from union officials.

"We're happy with the tentative agreement. Now it's up to the membership," said Kevin Brooks, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administration.

The agreement was reached late last week, and just before union leaders were going to ask membership for a strike-authorization vote. Now, they'll be asking members if they want to approve a contract instead.

"It wasn't good enough that the bargaining team would endorse it, but we thought it was good enough to put it out to the members," Ludwig said.

Ballots will be due back March 12, he said.

Brooks and Ludwig said the agreement calls for a 5.5 percent raise in the first year of the three-year contract, and then 3 percent in each of the next two years.

That's a better contract than other unions that have negotiated contracts this year have been offered, but Ludwig said it makes only a little progress in making up for lost pay in recent years when increases have failed to keep up with inflation.

"We catch up a little bit, just not as much as we would have liked," Ludwig said.

The 2,000-member union has about 650 members in Juneau, Ludwig said.

They'll be doing informational meetings around the state, starting with a Wednesday meeting in Juneau.

The supervisory unit has been working without a new contract since July 1, and the contract agreement will call for retroactive back pay since then. If approved by the members and then funded by the Alaska Legislature, employees could receive checks by June, Ludwig said.

Brooks said the state estimates the contract increase will cost about $23.5 million, with about $10 million of that additional cost for the state coming this year.

Ludwig said the shorter 90-day legislative session this year meant negotiators had to hurry to ensure time for the state budget to be amended to pay for the increase.

"We'd recommend an immediate effective date so as soon as the bill is signed we can go ahead and start processing checks," Brooks said.

Ludwig said he wouldn't be able to make an estimate of how likely the contract was to pass until after the informational meetings.

"It's going to be close," Ludwig said. "I've had a lot of negative feedback, and a lot of positive feedback. It's too close to call at this point."

• Contact reporter Patrick Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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