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Tentative pay raise negotiated for state employees

HELENA (AP) — Gov. Brian Schweitzer's administration and labor unions have negotiated a 10 percent pay raise for state workers over the next two years, but there's a catch: The deal must be approved by legislators who won't meet until the lame-duck Democratic governor has left office.

Three public employee unions announced the deal Monday at the state Capitol. It calls for base pay raises of 5 percent and a 10 percent increase in the state's share of employees' health insurance premiums in each of the next two years, Lee Newspapers of Montana reported.

The deal would affect between 15,000 and 16,000 employees. The total cost would be $138 million, including $71 million from the state's general fund, Budget Director Dan Villa said.

The proposal will go to the 2013 Legislature after the term-limited Schweitzer leaves office. Last year, the Republican-controlled Legislature refused to pass a smaller raise that had been negotiated by the administration and the unions

State workers have had their base pay frozen since 2009, when unions agreed to a two-year freeze because of declining state revenues.

Members of the MEA-MFT, Montana Public Employees Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 9, praised Schweitzer and his administration for agreeing to the deal.

Dan Dolan, MPEA's president of the board of directors, said, "As state employees, we have helped shoulder the economic recovery of the state of Montana. But our work has just started. We need to change some minds and change some opinions."

Schweitzer, who was in Washington state attending a Western Governors' Association meeting, had no immediate comment on the deal

Larry Nielsen of the MEA-MFT said he was "very confident" about the chances of the Legislature passing the pay deal next year, and there is sufficient money available to pay for the plan.

State employees have the "dedication to go out and do the right thing, to elect the right Legislature and to lobby that Legislature and to guarantee that state employees are honored for the hard work they do," Nielsen said

After the 2011 Legislature rejected the pay deal, the three public employee unions filed an unfair labor complaint against the Legislature. Last month, the state Board of Personnel Appeals dismissed the unions' complaint.


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