Governor and employee unions reach deal on state employee pay raises, requires legislative approval

The Governor’s office has negotiated pay increases with the unions representing state employees.The deal for public employees includes a 10 percent raise over the next two years. This also applies for employees of the Montana University System.

But there’s a catch. The raises must be approved by the 2013 legislature, after current Governor Brian Schweitzer has already left office.

President of the state’s largest employee union, the MEA-MFT, Eric Feaver says many state employees will have gone without a pay raise for four years when the Legislature considers this deal.

“So the bill has come due,” he said, “and these state employees, they deserve the money.”

The 10 percent raise reached in the deal with the Schweitzer Administration spreads over two years. Five percent next year, another five the year after that.

The agreement also includes a 20 percent total increase in the state’s share of employee health insurance premiums. The state is projected to have a budget surplus of over $400 million this next biennium. Feaver says that’s enough money.

“For sure, the state can afford this plan. And so for us to argue differently is just simply to once-again tell state employees that we don’t value your service,” he said.

He calls that a solid argument.

“Whether the next legislature buys it, obviously will depend a great deal on the partisan makeup of that next legislature,” he said.

Feaver has no doubt a Republican dominated legislature would be less inclined to support the deal.

That’s what happened in 2011 anyway—heavy Republican majorities rejected a smaller negotiated pay raise.

“But, if we are able to shrink the margin of partisan difference perhaps folks will get on board and we will go forward,” Feaver said.

Wolf Creek Republican Senator Rick Ripley says it is an important issue.

“There’s some consideration that state employees do need a raise and I think that will be seriously considered,” Ripley said.

He suggests approving raises for those state employees on the lower tiers. He says those at the top have been receiving other raises outside of their base salary pay.

As for whether or not the Legislature will be willing to spend its budget surplus on state employees?

“There’s gonna be a lot of demand on that and how that is split up we’ll just have to wait and see. It’s a complicated process to work through,” Ripley said.

The raises would affect between 15-thousand and 16-thousand employees.

The Governor’s office says the total cost would be $138 million.

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