Unions get set for negotiations

All 12 union contracts to go on the table

Posted: Monday, December 09, 2002

The incoming administration of Gov. Frank Murkowski faces negotiations with all 12 state employee unions on labor contracts that expire in 2003.

Contracts for 10 of the state's 12 collective bargaining units expire June 30. Contracts for the other two - the Inlandboatmen's Union and the bargaining unit representing state troopers - expire within the first three months of next year.

Department of Administration Assistant Commissioner David Koivuniemi said formal negotiations will not begin until January.

Meanwhile, Andy Warwick of Fairbanks and outgoing Juneau Rep. Bill Hudson - both former commissioners for the Department of Administration - are meeting with the unions on behalf of the Murkowski administration.

Koivuniemi said the various bargaining units would meet with the administration within the next two weeks.

A contract negotiating committee for the Alaska State Employees Association, also known as AFSCME Local 52, will meet with the administration this week, according to union spokesman Reber Stein.

ASEA is the largest union in Alaska, representing approximately 7,500 employees - about half of all state employees represented under collective bargaining, Stein said. Representing general government employees, ASEA is the collective bargaining unit for people in jobs such as clerks, biologists and some administrators. Almost 2,000 ASEA members live in Juneau.

"We are looking forward to this process with the new administration," Stein said. "We hope that his dreams for improving the lot of all Alaskans include state employees as well."

He said the six-member negotiating committee is close to completing a plan to present to the incoming administration.

While not going into specifics about what the union hopes to achieve with the new contract, Stein said the greatest concerns for ASEA are those of health-care coverage and wages.

"State employees' paychecks have lost nearly a quarter of their purchasing power since 1984," due to inflation and increased health-care costs, Stein said.

Former Department of Administration Commissioner Jim Duncan, who helped broker union contracts that were set three years ago under the Knowles administration, said unions likely will use contracts negotiated in municipalities and the private sector since 2000 as benchmarks for the contract talks.

Monetary terms of the contracts must be presented to the Legislature for approval by the 60th day of the legislative session - sometime in mid-March.

Duncan said he expects that with a new administration and many new lawmakers in the Legislature this year, the March deadline may be too tight for negotiating 12 three-year contracts.

"Clearly, all negotiations are different, and when you are dealing with 12 contracts simultaneously it becomes more difficult," Duncan said.

He said an alternative approach would be to negotiate contracts for one year instead of three to give the administration time to more fully address the unions' requests.

"The bottom line is that it's a tough job, but it's a do-able job," Duncan said.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.

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