Could state employees still get a 5 and 5 pay plan?

The president of the state’s largest public employee union said Wednesday he will still try to negotiate five percent base pay raises for state employees each of the next two years even though lawmakers only appropriated 75-percent of the funds necessary to do so.

“The bill as introduced had five and five on July one,” MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver said, “but you can make five and five happen anytime.”Legislators cut $38 million from the pay plan bill originally negotiated between employee unions and former-Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Conservative lawmakers argued a full five and five plan was too expensive and would be giving pay increases to many employees who had received other types of raises over the past couple of years. These Republicans wanted a leaner pay plan that specifically requested the governor and unions give greater emphasis to the minority of state employees who have not received any raises for more than four years.

“We see that as a legislative encouragement, but not a mandate,” Feaver said. “It doesn’t say ‘you will do this’ and, in fact, we would believe that would be violative of collective bargaining.”

Feaver said MEA-MFT is standing firm on negotiating the five and five. He says the state can get there by delaying the implementation of raises, lowering their overall cost.

“If you start (the 5 and 5) January 1, you save $34 million,” Feaver said, although he advocates starting at the beginning of October.

“It’s a big priority to me to make sure that we do this the best way that we can with the money that was given to us,” Gov. Steve Bullock said. He said his first priority is to start working through the 200 or so bills delivered to his desk after the close of the 2013 Legislature. Afterward, he said his administration will begin negotiations on the state pay plan–probably in the next few weeks.

Senate passes first state employee base pay raises in four years

The Montana Senate has passed a $116 million dollar two-year pay plan for state employees on a 37-13 vote.

It has already passed the House, but is heading back to that chamber for consideration of a Senate amendment.

Lawmakers have not given state employees base pay raises for more than four years. Senator Alan Olson (R-Roundup) said it’s time to give the raises to ensure the state retains a quality workforce.

“We want to permit coal mines, we want to permit oil wells, we want to build highways, and we need to have the qualified people there to do it,” Olson said. 

The bill removes a quarter of the funding from the $152 million pay plan originally negotiated by unions and former Governor Brian Schweitzer. That deal would have given all state employees a five percent raise each of the next two years. 

Several lawmakers complained the legislature is not included in those negotiations. Senator Rick Ripley (R-Wolf Creek) believes it’s a flawed system, saying “the whole problem is that there’s a negotiation that takes place and this body is not at the table and yet, (the legislature) comes back and is responsible for funding it.”

The new plan would give the smaller amount back to Governor Steve Bullock for re-negotiation, requesting special emphasis on the employees who have not received other types of raises over the past few years. The amendment added by the Senate also changes how future pay increases will be determined. Currently, the state compares the pay of similar government jobs in surrounding states as well as comparable jobs in the private sector in order to set wages. The amendment removes the consideration of the private sector.

“It is ironic that the legislature that wrote the law enabling the executive to give raises is now complaining about that very same law as a way to suppress what our employees are paid,” said the Governor’s budget director, Dan Villa. He says Governor Bullock is disappointed with the lower dollar amount in the pay plan and will be trying to convince the House to add more money back in as the body debates the Senate amendment.

State employees in 2009 volunteered to freeze their base pay as the Great Recession took hold. The 2011 Legislature rejected a smaller pay plan than that being considered now. Thus, base pay for employees have not gone up for more than four years. However, Republicans in favor of the smaller pay plan point out more than 60 percent of state employees have received other types of raises over the last few years.

What the state pay plan looks like now, and what’s next

Representative Galen Hollenbaugh (D-Helena)

Representative Galen Hollenbaugh (D-Helena)

Lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee passed an amended version of the State Pay Plan (HB13) over the weekend.

As Lee Newspapers Reporter Chuck Johnson writes, the bill “no longer provides for any across-the-board percentage pay hikes for state employees.”

Rather than approving a plan giving a five percent raise this and next year to all state employees, the pay play now gives a lump sum of money to the Governor’s office to renegotiate raise amounts with labor unions. It also strips about $38 million from the plan negotiated between former Governor Brian Schweitzer and those unions, from about $152 Million to $114 Million.

Representative Steve Gibson (R-East Helena)

Representative Steve Gibson (R-East Helena)

“What it basically says is ‘sorry Executive, you don’t really have any power to negotiate. We’ll hand you some money and you have to go back out and negotiate with the money that we’ve given you,” said Representative Galen Hollenbaugh (D-Helena). He sits on the Appropriations Committee and joined all Democrats in opposing the bill.

“If we wouldn’t have gotten the bill out of here Saturday, It probably would have been tabled,” said Representative Steve Gibson (R-East Helena) who brought the amendment to the pay plan on Saturday. Gibson had moved to pass the original pay plan to the House Floor, and was the only Republican to vote for that in House Appropriations. The motion failed and Gibson says this change to the bill was needed to get Republican support.
“I did not want to see this die,” Gibson said. “I do not want to walk away from here again and see these people that deserve a raise not get one.” Gibson notes the pay plan now gives the Governor discretion to give higher percentage raises to those in lower pay brackets, and perhaps lower raises to those who have received raises in broadband pay over the last few years. He also says the bill still preserves a ten percent increase to health insurance each of the next two years.
“I think Representative Gibson has done his best to keep this pay plan bill, House Bill 13, moving forward,” said Eric Feaver, President of the state’s largest public employee union, the MEA-MFT. Feaver says the objective now is to pass the bill out of the House as amended, then try to add some more money back into the bill when it heads over to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee.