Union members: Thumbs up to state's biggest labor contract

Posted: Friday, April 21, 2000

Members of the largest state employees' union have apparently given their approval to a new contract negotiated by their leaders.

All the votes had not been counted by the Juneau Empire's midday deadline, but a union official said approval seems certain.

``About 7:30 last night it was 7-1 in favor of ratification,'' ASEA Business Manager Chuck O'Connell said today. ``So there is absolutely no question that the members will ratify the contract.''

The contract provides $1,200 bonuses for members this year, 2 percent raises on Jan. 1, 2002, and 3 percent raises on Jan. 1, 2003. It also provides more money for health insurance each year -- up to $630 in the final year of the three-year contract -- and adds an additional ``merit step'' for some members.

The Alaska State Employees Association contract also changes the way employee leave is treated. It allows workers to cash out half of their accumulated sick leave if they choose to move to a new annual leave system that provides fewer total days of leave.

The 7,100-member union includes a wide range of employees from doctors to secretaries. About 2,000 members live in Juneau.

Funding for that contract and contracts with 11 other state unions still must be approved by the Legislature, and some lawmakers are balking at the cost.

Gov. Tony Knowles' administration has said the contracts, which have now been ratified by all but two of the 12 state labor unions, will cost almost $25 million, of which about $13.8 million would come from the state's general fund.

Some legislators, however, have said the leave cash-out provision in the ASEA contract could give the state a potential $22 million liability if all members opted to take advantage of the change at once.

Department of Administration officials say they don't anticipate such a ``run on the bank'' and believe reserve accounts established to pay for leave cash-out can absorb the cost.

Legislators must agree to fund the contracts before they take effect.

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