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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Deal on state employee raises reached, University System still waiting

Montana’s public employees now just need to wait for state agencies and unions to ratify a plan negotiated with Gov. Steve Bullock in order to receive their first base-pay raises in more than four years.

The governor’s office announced the deal Wednesday which details how to split $116 million provided by the 2013 Legislature for raises. Lawmakers rejected a larger plan negotiated between former Gov. Brian Schweitzer and unions which was supported by Bullock. That deal would have given five percent raises to state workers each of the next two years. Republican lawmakers argued while base pay had been frozen for four years, many executive branch employees had received other types of raises. They cut a quarter of the funding from the original pay plan, handing Bullock the $116 million figure to renegotiate with unions and placing a special emphasis on higher raises to workers in low-income pay brackets.

The new pay plan deal just reached will give employees a three percent raise starting this July, with another five percent raise in November, 2014. The plan also freezes out-of-pocket health insurance premium increases before January 1, 2015 for members of the state’s insurance plans.

“This pay plan represents a fair pay increase for the snowplow drivers, nurses, biologists, firefighters and other state employees who go to work every day for all of us,” Bullock said in a press release.

Eric Feaver, President of the MEA-MFT--the state’s largest employee union, said the plan is the best deal that could be reached with the money provided by legislators.

“Effectively, the effort we put into this was to figure out how to distribute this money as broadly as possible to all state employees and to give them the greatest bang for the buck,” he said.

The pay plan deal does not apply to employees of the Montana University System. Legislators did appropriate money for those workers in their $116 million pay plan bill. But the state Board of Regents is the body responsible for negotiating how those funds will be distributed—and those negotiations are still ongoing.

Chuck Johnson of Lee Newspapers spoke with Associate Commissioner of Higher Education Kevin McRae, who said the University System is now negotiating with more than two-dozen bargaining units representing 4-thousand employees.

Bullock's office also wrote the state will fully fund what they are calling the "Blue Collar Pay Plan", which applies to organized trade and craft employees in the executive branch.

"These employees will see raises of $0.92 in 2013 and $0.97 in 2014," a press release said.  "None of these nearly 800 workers have had a raise since 2008 and full funding honors the directive from state legislators to ensure that lower wage workers saw increases."

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