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Bill gives legislators more time to review state labor contracts

Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2000

State labor contracts would need to be negotiated and on lawmakers' desks earlier, under a bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday.

The bill would also let legislators lock workers into a three-year deal even if the state agreed to fund just the first year.

It passed the Senate 15-5, but one provision was likely to be changed on a reconsideration vote today.

Senate Bill 269 is sponsored by Senate President Drue Pearce, an Anchorage Republican. It requires contracts to be submitted no later than 45 days after the legislative session starts if the Legislature is to consider them that calendar year.

The new time line is a needed change, Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Sean Parnell said. ``It will actually bring about a more reasoned and deliberate process, and in fact, a more public process,'' the Anchorage Republican said.

Current law requires labor contracts' monetary terms to be submitted within 10 days of agreement if the Legislature is in session.

That's not soon enough, Parnell said. Last year labor contracts, which required the Legislature to spend more money on health benefits, came in within the last few days of the session - not enough time to give them careful consideration, he said. The Legislature refused to fund them and many were renegotiated.

The bill also makes clear that if the Legislature doesn't pay for any of the financial costs of a labor contract, such as raises or extra health benefits, none of the provisions go into effect.

However, if the Legislature pays the financial costs of even the first year of a multi-year agreement, all the contract's terms are in effect for the duration of the contract.

That could affect deals such as the three-year contracts with a dozen unions that are currently before the Legislature. If lawmakers agree to pay for first-year bonuses, the deal is in place for the entire three years even if lawmakers refuse to fund raises in the following two years.

Juneau Sen. Kim Elton, a Democrat, argued that's not a good idea. Workers may have agreed to a sacrifice in nonmonetary terms in exchange for raises over three years.

With the proposed change, Elton said, employees may simply decide to no longer negotiate multi-year deals. ``Why lock themselves into nonmonetary concessions?'' he said.

The unintended result may be that the administration and employees spend time at the bargaining table every year, he said.

Elton also said the bill isn't clear on whether contracts that are submitted on time and rejected by the Legislature can be renegotiated and resubmitted to the Legislature after the 45-day time limit has passed.

Sen. Tim Kelly, an Anchorage Republican and chairman of the Rules Committee, agreed that was a potential problem. He said he would work with Elton on an amendment to clarify it. That amendment was to be proposed when the bill came up for reconsideration today on the Senate floor.

Elton also complained the bill removes the requirement that the Legislature pass a resolution approving or disapproving of the monetary terms of the contracts.

That doesn't even let the administration and workers know why the deals were rejected, he said. ``It seems to me fair if we reject the contracts to say why we didn't like them.''

Parnell, however, said a court decision last year made clear the Legislature doesn't need to pass a specific resolution to reject contracts. Simply not funding them means they don't take effect.

``I think this language simply clarifies what is existing law,'' he said.

After the reconsideration vote on the Senate, the bill will go to the

House.



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