The 2011 legislature is now four weeks gone, but the ugly mess it created in state employee pay lingers on. Despite Gov. Brian Schweitzer's outspoken commitment to Montana workers and their right to organize and bargain collectively — or because of it — the 2011 Legislature turned its back on state employees, their unions and good-faith bargaining.
As directed by law, four times the governor bargained in good faith with state employee unions a state employee pay plan to present to four different Legislatures for ratification. Three Legislatures ratified the plans as bargained.
But this Legislature flatly refused to ratify the modest increase in state employee pay the governor and unions bargained. Way late the pay plan barely escaped the House Appropriations Committee, only to die an ignominious death in the full House on the next to the last day of the session. That day, April 27, 61 members of the House ignored the fact that this state has plenty of unencumbered revenue that could easily fund the pay plan for the 2013 biennium. Easily.
Everybody in Montana should know that the 2011 Legislature threw state employees under the bus for no fiscal reason whatsoever.
Consequently, after having bargained with the governor a pay freeze, the 2009 Legislature raced to ratify to help ease our state through the Great Recession, state employees now face more of the same for the next two years. If nothing changes, as calendar years go, state employee base pay will be frozen for five long years! Outrageous. Totally unacceptable.
Hopefully, the last word in this lamentable chapter in our state's history has not yet been spoken. Whatever may come next, no one should doubt for a nanosecond the governor's commitment to a collectively bargained and legislatively ratified pay plan that better compensates and respects state employees who do the work that matters.