Contract cut pitched

Senate wants smaller pay raises in union agreements

Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2000

Senate leaders have indirectly laid their offer to state workers on the table, and it's about $20 million smaller than the deal Gov. Tony Knowles' administration negotiated with them.

Union leaders, however, said they've already signed contracts with the administration and they're not interested in negotiating new ones with the state Senate.

``We're not buying it, there's no way,'' said Don Etheridge, a business agent for Public Employees Local 71. ``Our membership would never stand still on it.''

And Knowles called the move ``a pretty transparent attempt on their (lawmakers) part to circumvent law, and in addition, the concept of fair bargaining practices.''

State law dealing with public employee relations does not provide for the Legislature to be part of the negotiation process.

``Their responsibility is to vote on the proposed terms that are before them now and to fund them,'' Knowles said.

The Senate Finance Committee proposal does not directly address union workers. The reduced numbers were contained in a revised version of a bill that deals with pay for non-union employees. Those employees traditionally are granted the same raises that union employees are.

However, the revised version of Senate Bill 298 proposes paying non-union workers a different package than what had been negotiated with union workers - an $800 bonus this year instead of $1,200; a 2 percent raise in 2001, which is not different from the union package; and a 2 percent raise in 2002, instead of 3 percent.

It also proposes a smaller increase in contributions to health insurance by the third year of the contract - $600, instead of $630.

The Finance Committee is not really suggesting paying non-union workers less, though, senators said.

Rather, the revised bill is a message that the smaller package is the most the majority of senators are willing to pay for union contracts, said Sen. Tim Kelly, an Anchorage Republican who heads the Senate's Rules Committee.

The committee substitute ``stakes out a position as to how much I believe the majority in the Senate is prepared to fund to ratify contracts,'' Kelly said. There are many who don't want to spend even that much, he said.

``The message is if the votes aren't there on both sides to ratify the Knowles administration contracts that were presented to us, that this is a counterproposal I think would pass.''

If the votes were there to fund the union contracts negotiated by the Knowles administration, then the same deal would be extended to non-union workers, Kelly said. There is no intent to treat them differently.

Applying the cheaper deal to all state employees would save $5.1 million this year, of which $2.5 million would come from the general fund, according to Legislative Finance Division calculations. Over three years the cheaper deal would save close to $20 million total, of which $10.5 million would be general fund money.

The bill passed the Senate Finance Committee this morning.

Etheridge said his union will not go along with the Finance Committee proposal after already negotiating deals with the administration.

``If we went back to the table on this one, we'd just as well give up our collective bargaining rights because it wouldn't do us any good from here on out,'' he said.

If the original deals aren't funded, he predicted, ``Our guys'll be on the street. It don't take us long to take a strike vote.''

The Alaska State Employees Association, the largest state labor organization, has already voted to strike if the contracts aren't funded. Chuck O'Connell, business manager for ASEA, said that union is also not willing to discuss the Senate Finance proposal.

Support for funding the labor contracts is seen as being greater in the House than the Senate.

Members of the House Democratic minority have been assured they would at least get a chance to vote on funding the contracts. Many believe there is enough support to fund the contracts in the House.

``I think there's quite a bit of support in the caucus to approve them,'' said Rep. Gail Phillips, a member of the House Finance Committee and part of the Republican majority.

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