State employees, union officials discuss controversial contract

Proposal calls for wage increases over next three years

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More than 100 members of the Juneau chapter of the Alaska State Employees Association gathered Tuesday at Centennial Hall for a discussion that included concerns with a state contract regarding wage increases that is under consideration.

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In some cases, said Christine Lee, state employees with children live with their parents because they can't afford housing, she said.

"That just seems so wrong," she said. Lee is chairwoman of the Juneau chapter's communications committee.

The statewide union's contract negotiating team agreed to send a tentative contact to members for approval, but the Juneau chapter's leadership has come out overwhelmingly against it.

That three-year contract calls for a 4 percent wage increase the first year and 3 percent in each of the next two years.

Statewide union officials described the contract as the best they've ever had, after years of declines.

It wasn't enough for Renate Riffe, a fish biologist with the Department of Fish and Game.

"4-3-3 is not going to catch us up with where we were," she said.

She urged her fellow union members not to "turn tail" and accept the state's offer without trying for something better.

Michelle Lisper, a budget analyst with the Department of Health and Social Services, said that voting down the contract proposal didn't mean there would be a strike. It just meant negotiations would resume.

"Just because you vote 'no' has nothing to do with a strike, nothing whatsoever," she said.

Lisper said it was unlikely the state government would lock out ASEA workers.

"We're not going to be locked out," she said. Who's going to lock us out? Not Sarah Palin. She's got enough problems."

In an advisory vote in June, ASEA members narrowly endorsed the contract, but Juneau chapter President Stephen Wright said some of those people may have changed their minds after learning more about the contract.

Wright said his main goal was to get as many members as possible to vote, regardless of whether they approve the contract or not.

Ballots were mailed to ASEA members in good standing in early September and are due back by Oct. 16.

Because of the time between ballot arrival and the deadline for return, many get lost, he said. Others are mistaken for junk mail and go into the trash, he said.

Any union member needing a ballot can request one from the union and get a replacement.

In addition, Wright said anybody who wishes to change a vote that's already been cast can do so. Ballots are tracked electronically, and the last vote cast is the one that counts, he said.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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