JUNEAU — The administration of Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and the leadership of the state's largest public employee union have reached a tentative pact on a three-year contract with no raises and two days of furloughs a year — in effect, a wage cut.
Top lawmakers were notified this week of the deal between the negotiating teams for the Walker administration and the union, the general government unit of the Alaska State Employees Association. The proposal, which comes with the state's massive budget crisis as a backdrop, must still be approved by the full membership of the union and the Legislature.
The union had 8,800 members as of June, but Jim Duncan, the executive director, said it lost about 300 members over the last year due to retirements and layoffs. Total annual pay for all members is about $440 million, and the furloughs should save the state about $9 million over the length of the three-year contract, which would take effect in July.
Over the contract's lifetime, state payments to the union's health care plan would average the same as the current contribution of $1,389 a month per member — though that number will dip for the first year before rising over the following two years.
"Our team believes that in this climate it was the best we could do," Duncan said in a phone interview Friday, adding that some of the financial provisions in the contract amounted to concessions. But he added that state employees "could never give enough" to close the state's $3.8 billion budget deficit — a position that's consistent with the Walker administration's, and one that's supported by state financial experts. Walker says new taxes and using earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund are also necessary.
State administration commissioner Sheldon Fisher, whose department negotiated the deal, called it "fair to both sides."
"There's things we would have liked to have gotten and didn't, and I think that's the same on their side as well," he said in a phone interview Friday. He added that holding employee pay flat amounted to a "meaningful win" for the state.
Union members are set to vote on the contract in early April, Duncan said. Lawmakers will also have to approve it, though several legislative leaders said Friday that they were still unfamiliar with the terms.
Informed of its general financial provisions Friday morning, Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said they sounded "very reasonable."
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Sheldon Fisher's last name as Fischer.