The largest of the state employee unions plans to ask its 7,500 members to authorize a strike in response to what the union called stalled contract negotiations.
Jim Duncan, business manager of the Alaska State Employees Association, said if members approve a strike, that does not necessarily mean state workers will walk off the job.
"It's one of the tools that unions have in trying to get to an agreement," Duncan said. "Let me emphasize that no one likes to use that tool. We wanted to use mediation."
The administration disagreed negotiations were at an impasse.
"We still have high hopes that the state and all the bargaining units will be able to reach contracts," said Kevin Jardell, a senior official in the Department of Administration.
The Alaska Labor Relations Agency will decide whether the two sides are at an impasse, and if so, could order mediation.
Duncan said the union has twice asked that a federal mediator be brought in to help work out the differences, but the state has not agreed to that.
Jardell said the state may be willing to bring in a mediator, but he does not believe talks have reached that point yet.
"A mediator only works if you've really narrowed the issues down to a few, and they help you get to those final few issues," Jardell said.
The union probably will conduct the strike vote in mid-May and have the votes counted by mid-June, Duncan said. A strike could not occur until the current contract ends June 30, he said.
The Alaska State Employees Association represents a wide range of state employees from file clerks to engineers.
Duncan said the union is seeking a one-time $1,200 payment for each member in the first year of a new contract, then 3 percent raises for each of the following two years.
The state has offered a wage freeze the first year, with 2 percent raises in each of the following two years, Duncan said.
Jardell said he could not immediately reach state negotiators Thursday afternoon to confirm that is what the state offered.
The union also wants more money for health care than the state has offered and objects to other contract changes the state is seeking, Duncan said.
The state's pay proposal for ASEA is less than it offered the Public Safety Employees Association, which represents state troopers and correctional officers, Duncan said.
That tentative contract, agreed to in March, offers public safety workers 2 percent raises each year of a two-year contract.
Public safety employee negotiations are handled differently because they are not allowed to strike and contract disputes can go to binding arbitration, Jardell said.
The state announced Thursday that members of Public Employees Local 71, which represents labor, trades and crafts workers, ratified a deal that provides no raises in the first year, but allows 2 percent raises in the following two years.
Jardell said Local 71's acceptance of that deal demonstrates that what the state has offered Alaska State Employees Association is reasonable.
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