Contracts bring relief, avert state worker strike

Posted: Tuesday, May 09, 2000

The mood is one of relief at the State Office Building, following the Legislature's approval last week of funding for state labor contracts.

``We just want a fair deal, and I'm glad to see the Legislature did the right thing,'' said Guy Crockroft, a procurement specialist in the information technology group of the Department of Administration.

He is among about 22,000 state workers, including University of Alaska employees, who will see more money this year as a result of the Legislature's decision last week to fund the contracts.

The union Crockroft is in, the 7,100-member Alaska State Employees Association, had already voted to strike if the contracts weren't funded, and leaders of other unions were also talking about striking.

``I don't think you'll have too many people complaining that, `Doggone it, they approved it. We really wanted to go on strike,''' Crockcroft said.

For many state workers, the funding of the contracts means they will see a $1,200 bonus in their July 26 paycheck - the first of the new fiscal year.

With taxes and other deductions, it won't be a full $1,200, said Dave Koivuniemi of the Department of Administration. Also, those who have worked for the state less than a year will receive a smaller, prorated bonus.

There are some variations among contracts, however, so not everyone will see a bonus. For instance:

Instead of receiving the bonus, those ASEA employees who have been at step ``F'' or higher on the pay scale for at least one year will move up to a new step on the scale, a 3.75 percent increase. For those in higher-paying jobs, that will amount to more than $1,200, and for those in lower-paying jobs, it will amount to about the same $1,200 other workers are receiving.

Because adding the new step for some ASEA members costs the state more than the flat bonus, that union agreed to delay raises that are due in the final two years of the contract. Instead of receiving 2 percent and 3 percent raises on July 1, 2001, and July 1, 2002, as most other unions are, they will receive those raises on Jan. 1, 2002 and Jan. 1, 2003.

State troopers won't see the $1,200 bonus this year. The troopers' union agreed to forego the bonus. In exchange there will be an increase in the geographic pay differential for troopers in Klawock and Kodiak and more state money put into the troopers's health trust.

University of Alaska employees are covered by different contracts, and their raises depend on which union they're in.

Those in the community college teachers' union, who teach primarily lower division courses, will receive a 2.6 percent increase; classified employees, such as maintenance workers, will receive a 1.5 percent increase; United Academics, which includes faculty teaching mostly higher division courses, will receive a 2.4 percent raise; and adjunct, or part-time, faculty will receive a 5 percent raise. Non-union employees will see a 2.6 percent raise.

The amount of money the state is spending on health benefits is also going up to at least $515 per employee per month this year. What effect that has on workers' paychecks varies from one union to another.

The difference will be relatively minor for Alaska State Employees Association members - a reduction in members' contributions from $84.50 to $82 a month in premiums.

For some other unions, the difference will be more noticeable.

Supervisors, confidential employees, two teacher unions and all the marine highway unions will see their contribution for a standard benefits package drop from $174 a month to $152.

Some of the unions have health trusts through which they manage their own health benefits. The effect of the increased state contribution to health care will vary among those unions.

The three-year contracts call for the state to increase the amount it pays for health benefits to $575 in the second year and to $630 in the final year.

However, that provision and the 2 percent and 3 percent pay raises called for in the final two years of the contracts are not assured. Next year's Legislature will have to decide whether to pay for those.

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