State agrees on union contracts

Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Knowles administration has tentatively agreed to new contracts with all 12 state employee unions, Administration Commissioner Bob Poe announced Wednesday.

Contract increases will cost the state more than $20 million, an amount likely to draw strong opposition from the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific, which represents about 500 state ferry workers; the Alaska Public Employees Association, which represents about 1,300 supervisors; and two smaller unions approved essentially the same deal offered to other unions.

Members will get a $1,200 lump-sum payment this year, a 2 percent raise next year and a 3 percent raise the following year. Also, the state will increase its contribution to employee health coverage in each of the contract's three years.

''If you want to have a responsible, capable state government, you have to pay sufficient compensation to attract and retain good employees,'' Poe said.

Poe, who oversaw the negotiations, said the deal essentially allows state employees to catch up with inflation after four years of losing ground.

Eleven of the contracts must still be ratified by the union's members.

Then comes a bigger obstacle -- the Legislature.

The cost of the contracts were included in budget amendments submitted to lawmakers on Wednesday.

Along with the $20.3 million spelled out in those contracts, the budget also calls for similar increases to state employees who aren't covered, including $2.6 million for executive branch employees, $1.1 million for court system workers, and $634,000 for employees of the Legislature.

All told, the increases come to $24.8 million, although only $12 million would come from the state's general funds. The remainder would come from federal money and state operations such as the Anchorage International Airport, said Annalee McConnell, Gov. Tony Knowles' budget director.

However, even $12 million won't fit in well with the budget-cutting plans of the Legislature's Republican majority. GOP lawmakers rejected contract increases last year and hope to cut $30 million as a response to the state's budget gap, which is expected to exceed $700 for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

''In order to accept these sort of increases for our state employees we're going to have to do something radical,'' said Senate President Drue Pearce, R-Anchorage, listing big-ticket items such as Medicaid, education funding and state aid to local governments that might be on the block.

However, Pearce would not reject the contracts out of hand.

''We'll seriously look at them, we're not just going to say no without ever looking at them,'' Pearce said.

The contract also covers the Confidential Employees Association, representing 190 workers, and the Alaska Vocation Technical Center Teachers Association, representing 33 teachers at the center in Seward.

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