State employees at news conference on HB 13

March 31, 2015 / Comments (0)



 Rich Aarstad, Historical Society
 Mike Touchette, Probation & Parole
 Dave Harris, MT State Prison

Dozens of state employee members participated in a news conference on HB 13, the state pay plan, today at noon.

MEA-MFT Secretary-Treasurer Rich Aarstad, who has led the charge for passing HB 13, the state pay plan, gave the following statement at the news conference. Rich is the senior archivist at the Montana Historical Society.

Rich Aarstad statement
Good afternoon, my name is Rich Aarstad. I’m here today with my fellow Montana state employees to express our disappointment over the actions of the majority party regarding our negotiated pay plan…HB 13.

As a 14-year employee of the state and Secretary-Treasurer of MEA-MFT, it was alarming to see the casual way in which the House Appropriations Committee tabled HB 13 last Friday without a thought to how it would impact those who work in state government. We waited two and a half months for a hearing, and a week later, with very little discussion, all but one Republican member of House Appropriations voted to table the pay plan.

Compounding this issue was the decision of the majority party at the beginning of this legislative session to impose a 2% cut to every state agency’s personal services budget, in retaliation for the pay plan they passed two years ago during the 2013 session.

As the session progressed, we heard repeatedly that the Republican leadership was upset over how Governor Bullock and our state employee unions bargained HB 13 from the 2013 session. A number of Republican legislators told us, and continue to tell us, they only intended for state employees to receive a 3%/3%, not 3%/5%.

They ignore the fact that they gave Governor Bullock a lump sum of money and told him to figure out the pay increases with state employees. So we did exactly that, settling on a 3% increase in July 2013 and 5% increase sixteen months later…using the same amount of money they gave us. Now they are crying foul.

Also during that same session, a number of influential legislators suggested that we should bring forward a flat-dollar pay increase instead of the usual percentage, asserting they could more readily support it because it would help those modestly compensated employees on the pay ladder. 

During our bargaining sessions with the Governor’s representatives, which began in June of 2014, we consistently stayed with that plan; eventually agreeing to a 50-cent an hour increase each year of the biennium and an increase to the state share on insurance — an agreement that the membership of MEA-MFT, MPEA, and AFSCME overwhelmingly supported.  

Some of those representatives who urged us to bring a flat dollar increase served on the House Appropriations Committee two years ago. Some of them are there today. It’s time for these same influential legislators to step forward and explain their reasons for tabling HB 13.

We bargained in good faith. Claims that Governor Bullock hoodwinked us are unfounded and unsubstantiated. Suggestions that we are somehow hurting the average Montana taxpayer, when we in fact are average Montana taxpayers ourselves, are disingenuous attempts to define state employees as a privileged class of workers. 

State employees are your friends, your neighbors, your family. We are the first to sacrifice when Montana is in crisis, as we proved in 2008, when on the cusp of the Great Recession we agreed to a zero wage increase. As such, when our state finds itself in sound financial condition, as it is now, then it is incumbent on this legislature to honor the work their state employees do. 50 cents an hour is not too much to ask for…nor is it too much to give.

We are proud of our work; we are dedicated to our professions; we deserve fair consideration on HB 13. We do not deserve to be used like a political football. 

Thank you.

Others who spoke at the news conference included MEA-MFT members Dave Harris, MT State Prison; and Mike Touchette, Probation & Parole. Lisa Tucker from Dept. of Environmental Quality and Nicholas Hyde with the Office of Public Defenders also spoke.  

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