HELENA — More than 100 public employees spent their holiday Monday tracking down legislators to seek support for the proposed pay increase agreement reached by unions and former Gov. Brian Schweitzer last summer.
The proposal calls for state employees to get raises in base pay of 5 percent in each of the next two years, after what for many has been four years of having their base pay frozen. The deal must be approved by the Legislature to take effect.
MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver asked those participating to tell their personal stories to legislators and then see where lawmakers stand on House Bill 13, the pay plan bill sponsored by Rep. Kathy Swanson, D-Anaconda.
“It’s created all sorts of problems,” Feaver said. “You know the stories as well as anybody. You have the stories to tell…Then just look them right in the eye and say, ‘OK, are you for 5 and 5 (percent) and no slice and dice or not?’ ”
Timm Twardoski, executive director of Montana Council 9 of the American Federation of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, said the public-employee unions bargained hard and in good faith with the state to reach the proposed pay plan agreement.
“To me it’s just simply wrong for folks to come here four months out of every two years just to come to town to tell us our agreement, that we bargained in good faith, is wrong,” he said. “And for them to make any attempts to alter that agreement, and in worst case, deny it, is simply wrong.”
Quint Nyman, executive director of the Montana Public Employees Association, said state employee unions have done a lot to let businesses know what the pay raises would mean in their communities.
“It’s not just about Helena, but it’s about the outlying communities too,” he said.
HB13 remains in House Appropriations Committee. A hearing on the bill took place Jan. 23, but the committee has not taken any action on it.
Chairman Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, said he is sifting through spreadsheets looking at pay raises received by state employees the past year.
“I’m kind of sharing some of the spreadsheets where some people in state government got raises of up to 26 percent, and some up to 12 percent or 14 percent last year,” Ankney said.
“Our focus is on those folks who haven’t received a damn thing.”
He was referring to the fact that about half of the executive branch employees received pay plans in fiscal 2012 under the separate broadband pay plan, despite having their base pay frozen. The broadband pay plan gives department directors the ability to adjust salaries within their authorized funding levels.
Other legislators have said there have been discussions about giving larger raises to those employees in the lower pay bands and smaller raises to those in the highest pay bands.
Feaver said Gov. Steve Bullock supports the twin 5 percent pay raises that Schweitzer negotiated with the unions last year.
He said the two 5 percent raises won’t make state employees whole after four years of freezes in their base pay.
“Less than 5 and 5 (percent) is a step backward of humungous proportion,” Feaver said. “We can’t allow it.”