Parnell Administration, Unions Reach Tentative Agreement

Alaska State Employees Association members rally for fair contracts at the State Office Building in late February. ASEA and the Alaska Public Employees Association, which collectively represent about 12,500 state workers, reached tentative agreements for new three-year contracts this week. Photo by Casey Kelly, KTOO-Juneau.

The Parnell administration and two public employee unions have reached tentative agreement for a new three-year contract to begin in July.

The Alaska Public Employees Association settled earlier this week; the Alaska State Employees Association finished late Thursday afternoon.  Both say they will recommend members ratify the proposal, which increases salaries slightly, while health benefits remain essentially unchanged from the current contract.

Negotiators from both unions say they fell short of their ambitions.

“Had to recognize that the stars were simply not aligned in our favor,” says Pete Ford, APEA Southeast Regional Manager.

The Legislature’s been pretty specific and clear about the manners in which they want to restrain advances in employee compensation and bring about some restrictions, and the administration has similar concerns,” he says.

State law requires that financial terms of the agreements be presented to lawmakers by Friday, March 15, the 60th day of the legislative session.

In a mid-February letter to Gov.  Sean Parnell, Senate President Charlie Huggins, House Speaker Mike Chenault and chairmen of both finance committees urged the administration to “hold the monetary terms of the contracts at zero.”

Negotiations were well underway.

Unions bargain with the administration, not the legislature. Still, Ford says, it was clear the letter had a chilling effect on state negotiators.

“Areas where we thought there might be movement tended to close down and the administration recognized what the legislature was saying and it certainly impacted or appeared to impact their flexibility at the table,” Ford says.

 APEA represents about 2,200 members of the Supervisory Unit and 210 Confidential Employees Association members; ASEA  represents about 8,000 workers in the General Government Unit.  The proposal calls for salary increases of 1 percent in each of the first and second years of the contract, and 2.5 percent   in the third year.

Deputy Administration Commissioner Curtis Thayer was at the negotiating table.  He says the letter from legislative leaders made the path clear for state negotiators.

That’s one of the reasons I think we were successful in getting the one /one (percent raise) in the first two years of the contract,” he says. “Quite frankly, the unions came in quite a bit higher, but I think it set the tone for continuing negotiations knowing what the fiscal outlook is for production and the price of oil.  It had an effect.  It did.”

ASEA business manager Jim Duncan says the atmosphere surrounding bargaining this year was difficult. He calls it a modest contract.

We’re going to recommend that members ratify it because it’s the best we could do under this atmosphere.  It’s got gains in it for the membership but not clearly to the level we would like to have had,” he says.

One gain comes for long term employees.  Those who have worked for 15 years or more will get an additional day of annual leave deposited to their account.

But Thayer says state employees hired after July 1, 2013 will earn fewer hours of annual leave for days worked.

He says a cap will also be put on annual leave.

People that have over a thousand hours, they’re grandfathered in, but for new employees, there will be a cap of no more than a thousand hours,” he says.

According to Thayer,  the state’s total leave liability is more than $164 million and the leave reduction and cap are an important part of the proposed contracts.

“The whole idea around leave is to take it. Take time off, recharge your batteries. come back with a fresh perspective,” he says.

The proposed contract also will require state employees take  at least two weeks a year of personal leave, he says.

The unions will begin a series of meetings at works sites around the state to explain the tentative agreement, then ask members to vote in favor.

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Rosemarie Alexander is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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