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Senate bill changes cost-of-living pay for nonunion workers

Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state Senate passed a bill Thursday that could save the state money by changing cost-of-living pay for new nonunion state workers.

But a Bethel Democrat said the measure could create demoralizing pay inequities in some smaller communities.

Senate Bill 180, sponsored by Finance Committee Co-chairman Dave Donley, is an attempt to update cost-of-living pay differences for nonunion state workers.

''The current statutory formula has not been updated since June 1976 and unfairly discriminates against some state employees while unfairly benefiting others,'' Donley said.

Under his proposal new nonunion workers would get the same cost-of-living pay that workers in the state's largest union receive. The union pay is based on a 1986 study.

Using that study, nonunion workers in some parts of the state, such as Fairbanks, are receiving too much pay, while those in other areas, including Bethel, Barrow and Kodiak, are receiving too little

Because more workers receive too much pay than too little, changing the law would save money. Under Senate Bill 180, the state would save about $54,900 next year and about $369,500 a year by the 2008 fiscal year.

Donley, an Anchorage Republican, ran into opposition when he first introduced the measure. He had proposed freezing pay for the overpaid nonunion employees until raises they were scheduled to receive caught up with the amount they were entitled to receive under the new schedule.

That could have prevented those workers from getting raises for several years, and Fairbanks area legislators in the Republican majority caucus would not support the bill.

So Donley amended the measure to keep all current employees under the current system, and apply the new cost-of-living schedule only to new employees.

That change doesn't sit well with Bethel Democrat Lyman Hoffman because workers in his district would be entitled to receive more money under the new system.

By keeping current employees under the old system, they are denied the new, more generous, cost-of-living pay that new hires there would earn, he said Wednesday.

''This is not good for the retention of current employees in the areas where the differential has gone up,'' Hoffman said. ''I think this is discriminatory and creates inequities among employees in those regions.''

Close to 130 executive branch positions would be affected by the bill, mostly attorneys in the Department of Law and Public Defender Agency. The measure would affect about 240 Alaska Court System positions.

The bill passed the Senate 14-3, with Democrats Kim Elton of Juneau, Johnny Ellis of Anchorage and Donny Olson of Nome voting no. Democrats Hoffman, Georgianna Lincoln of Rampart and Bettye Davis of Anchorage were absent for the vote Thursday.

Ellis gave notice that he may bring the issue up for reconsideration when the Senate next meets, on Tuesday.

If the outcome does not change then, the measure will be sent to the House.



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