The state's last major union without a contract has voted to approve a new deal that includes a 5.5 percent raise this year for supervisors, announced state officials and the Alaska Public Employees Association's Supervisory Unit on Thursday.
Members of the supervisors union ratified a contract with the state, ending the long-running wage dispute.
"It's a big deal to get a contract in place, but it's not where we'd hoped to wind up," said John White, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game procurement officer in Juneau and statewide president of the unit.
The union has about 1,875 members, according to the state. Union officials said turnout in the ratification election was 85 percent, the highest in recent memory.
The contract's provisions, including a 5.5 percent pay increase retroactive to the start of the fiscal year that began last July 1, appears to be the best obtained by any union in the current round of contract negotiations. But union and management negotiators say they had the farthest to go after years of failing to keep up with inflation.
Department of Labor Commissioner Annette Kreitzer said the agreement the supervisors got was the best in 15 years or more.
Rich Pratt, a Department of Transportation and Public Facilities supervisor, said he didn't like the contract.
"I don't think it was a particularly good deal," he said.
In years past, when the state had budgetary problems tied to low oil prices, supervisor salaries failed to keep up with inflation, said Pratt, the state's chief bridge engineer.
"This contract does essentially nothing to make up for those losses over the last 20 years," he said.
Kreitzer said the state knew it had to offer more than had been given in the past, but still couldn't offer as much as it would have liked.
"I'm concerned, as the governor is, about holding down the rate of growth in state government," she said. "But, looking at history, it was very apparent to me that it was time we offered a significant increase," she said.
The state offered salary increases of four percent the first year, and three percent for the next two years of a three-year contract, Kreitzer said.
"The 4-3-3 (offer) was a significant increase," she said.
The break in the negotiations came a few months ago, when the supervisors took one part of the unit, the class one employees who are unable to strike, to arbitration. They challenged the state, in a full-page newspaper advertisement, to accept the arbitrator's decision for all employees - even before the arbitrator's decision was released.
The arbitrator's decision called for a 5 percent increase, and though not all of the decision was accepted by both sides, it led to the late February agreement that union members voted on Wednesday.
"That was not offered to us initially," said White, who was a negotiator for the Southeast region.
He called the negotiations "tough," and said they took longer than they should have.
"It was long, drawn out, tedious," he said. "We felt they were playing the stall game on us a big part of the time."
"I have a job to do, which is to try to negotiate the fairest contracts with the union I can, that I think are sustainable," Kreitzer said.
Union business manager Bruce Ludwig said the nearly 85 percent turnout was "just phenomenal."
That reflects the strong interest union members took in the negotiations, he said.
"We've never had that kind of involvement," he said.
Ludwig declined to release the specific vote results, saying only that the contract had been approved. He said the actual vote would likely be released later.
Kreitzer said she had not been told the vote totals, only the overall result, but typically the state is given that information and expects to receive it.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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