Gov. Sarah Palin's new administration nearly has completed a series of union contract negotiations, giving what some union officials called the best deals they've had in years.
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"While we would have liked to do better, it's clearly a better contract than we've had in the past," said Jim Duncan, business manager of the Alaska State Employees Association.
His union represents 8,415 employees. Its contract includes wage increases and some long-sought benefits, such as a weekend differential for employees at 24-hour institutions such as Pioneer homes.
Seven of eight unions with contracts expiring in 2007 have reached tentative agreements with the state, though the ASEA's has not yet been ratified.
In contrast to recent years, this year's ASEA and other contracts will at least equal the inflation rate for at least the first year.
The last three-year contract included no increase at all in its first year, 1.5 percent in the second year and a 2 percent increase in its third year, Duncan said.
The ASEA bargaining team has agreed to a 4 percent increase this year, followed by 3 percent increases in each of the next two years, though it has not yet been ratified by members.
Department of Administration Commissioner Annette Kreitzer said Gov. Sarah Palin recognized the need to boost pay rates to keep and attract talented employees.
"We value state employees and want the state to be an employer of choice," said Kreitzer said in a written statement.
State employee contracts negotiated in 2007
UnionYear 1Year 2Year 3
Alaska Public Employees Association 4 3 3
InlandBoatman's Union of the Pacific 3 NA NA
Teachers Education Assoc. of Mt. Edgecumbe 3 3 3
Labor Trades and Crafts 5 2 NA
APEA-Confidential Employees Unit 4 3 3
APEA-Supervisory Employees Unit to be determined
International Org. of Masters, Mates and Pilots 3 NA NA
Marine Engineers Beneficial Association 3 NA NA
NA: Not applicable
SOURCE: Alaska Department of Administration
Despite wage increases since 1990, state worker pay has not kept up with inflation, said Jim Calvin, a partner with the McDowell Group, a Juneau research and consulting firm.
"In real terms, average wages paid to state employees are below what they used to be," Calvin said.
He said the decline during that time appeared to be about 20 percent, based on an examination of data for state workers in Juneau.
Of all the unions with agreements, only those representing the 800 workers on the Alaska Marine Highway System got contracts for only one year. The Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, the International Association of Masters, Mates and Pilots and the InlandBoatman's Union of the Pacific all agreed to accept one-year contracts.
State officials insisted on a single-year contract, said Ben Goldrich of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association in Juneau.
"It's essentially at the state's request, in order to buy us more time to work on bigger things," Goldrich said.
Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Chambers referred questions about the short contract to Department of Administration representatives.
Dianne Kiesel, director of the Division of Personnel and Labor Relations, said the short contract period was to due to new managers of the system, including Dennis Hardy, deputy commissioner for the Marine Highway System, and Leo von Scheben, Transportation commissioner.
"It's basically buying some time to review the management of the system," she said.
Kiesel said that because she wasn't part of the system she wasn't comfortable saying what that review might entail.
"They have a lot of ideas and want to look at the organization as a whole," she said.
Goldrich said he was not concerned about the short contract extension offered by the new Palin administration.
"So far she seems to understand the importance of the marine highway to the economy down here," he said.
For the ASEA contract to take effect, it needs ratification by union members this fall. In a June advisory vote, members narrowly approved the agreement reached by the bargaining team and the Department of Administration.
Duncan said the contract includes a number of new elements. It allows employees who are ineligible for overtime to get flex time instead and changes their ability to access the medical leave bank.
Under one new contract provision, employees in 24-hour institutions will be paid an extra $1 per hour for working weekends.
"That's a provision we've been working on for a number of years," he said.
Duncan said the extra pay recognizes that "it's a real hardship" for state workers who have to work on weekends. Typically that's a time when their spouse is off work and their children are out of school, and the weekend differential should be expanded to other employees as well.
"We got our foot in the door," he said. "We'll work to expand it in following years."
Ballots for the ratification vote will be mailed Sept. 10, with votes counted Oct. 16.
One union still needing to reach an agreement is the Alaska Public Employees Association's Supervisory Employees Unit.
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