Labor negotiations heat up at state capitol

Only one of state's 12 unions has signed tentative agreement

Posted: Wednesday, March 10, 2004

About 100 state employees representing Alaska unions rallied in front of the Capitol Tuesday for better pay and health benefits.

Union leaders are in negotiations with the state and have a tentative contract deadline Friday. That's the legislative session's 60th day.

Only one of the state's 12 bargaining units - Public Employees Local 71 - has signed a tentative agreement with the state. Jim Duncan, business manager for the Alaska State Employees Association AFSCME Local 52, said he will not let deadlines dictate the negotiations.

"That's a target date, however, our bottom line is we're going to negotiate for a fair contract; that's what we want for our membership," Duncan said.

The contract signed by Public Employees Local 71 takes effect on July 1, 2004, but employees will not see a wage increase until the following year.

In July 2005, Local 71 workers will receive a 2-percent raise, followed by an additional 2-percent raise in 2006.

State labor negotiator Art Chance said the deal provides the same contribution to workers' health insurance trust as the state makes to its select benefits plan. Under the plan, employees are likely to receive about a $40 increase in health benefits this year, Chance said.

The agreement still must be ratified by Local 71 membership. The union represents about 1,600 employees.

It is uncertain whether the other unions will accept the same deal.

At the Tuesday rally, members of ASEA, the Alaska Public Employees Association, the Inland Boatman's Union and the National Education Association-Alaska held signs reading "Unions Unite," "Outsourcing Hurts Our Communities" and "United We Stand."

"We're going after a fair wage, recognition that our members a year ago took zero increase wages and haven't had any increase in wages for the past couple of years," Duncan said in an interview following the rally. "We want the recognition that health insurance costs are increasing. We want them to stop trying to take away the internal strength of our union."

Duncan, however, did not reveal any specifics on the negotiations underway.

Chance, also tight-lipped about negotiation specifics, responded: "They want enhancements to their contract, and we want some economic efficiencies. And our efficiencies sometimes conflict with their enhancements."

During the noon rally, Duncan also called on the state to halt privatization of government services and criticized the state's recent decision to move the Alaska Marine Highway administration offices, and about 40 local jobs, to Ketchikan.

"Those people have homes in this community," Duncan said. "They have children in school and all of a sudden they are being asked to either give up their jobs or relocate to a different community, and it's done without any real basis in my mind."

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