State workers' contracts signed into law

Posted: Friday, June 02, 2000

The new state employee contracts are officially funded.

All smiles, Gov. Tony Knowles, union representatives and a few lawmakers gathered today for a bill-signing ceremony where the measures funding state workers' pay became law. For a while, Knowles said, it didn't look likely that the Legislature would pay the $32.2 million bill for the contracts.

``It wasn't a walk through Cope Park, that's for sure,'' Knowles said. He said that at one point this year it looked like only six or seven senators would vote for the funding. ``In the beginning, it didn't look like it would happen,'' he said.

But it did after Knowles called a special legislative session after lawmakers finished with most of their work in early May. All but one senator approved the measures, and 32 of the 40 House members approved paying for the contracts as well.

The contracts call for most state union members to receive $1,200 bonuses in July, 2 percent raises during the next year and 3 percent raises the following year. The deals also call for additional state spending on health care benefits.

Also getting funded were increases for nonunion workers in all three branches of state government and the University of Alaska.

Don Etheridge, with the AFL-CIO, grinned during the ceremony. He said this year's battle ended well. However, he's not looking forward to what may be another fight next year. Then, the contracts will come with a $30 million price tag, with $8.5 million of that in state-generated general funds.

The year after that, the contracts will cost $41 million, including $24.5 million in general funds.

``Next year?'' Etheridge said. ``I'm not overly confident for next year.'' He looked around at the assembled labor leaders, administration officials and legislators. He changed his mind, and said there's a good negotiating team in place.

``I believe we'll be able to do it again next year,'' he said.

Knowles said getting the Legislature to pay for contracts should be easier in 2001. ``We'll be back,'' he said. ``I believe it will be an easier sell.''

Also signed by Knowles today were three measures loosely connected to labor. They made adjustments to the Public Employee Retirement System and implemented a state program to hire state workers off the Internet.

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