Gianforte, unions announce state employee pay plan proposal

By: - October 21, 2022 5:13 pm

Gov. Greg Gianforte spoke about challenges and opportunities for bipartisanship at the University of Montana for the Mansfield Dialogues. (Provided by Andy Kemmis of the University of Montana)

Following extensive bargaining, Gov. Greg Gianforte and public employee unions this week reached an agreement for the state pay plan, according to a news release from the Governor’s Office.

Covering the 2024-2025 biennium, the agreement includes wage increases, health benefit cost freezes, one-time payments, and other contractual changes, according to the news release. It characterized the agreement as significant.

“This negotiated pay plan addresses challenges faced by state and higher education employees and will keep them doing important work for Montana,” said the news release.

The governor and union leaders praised the agreement in statements from the Governor’s Office.

“This agreement reflects our commitment to our hardworking state employees for all they do for Montanans,” Gianforte said in a statement. “As Montanans and all Americans face higher prices and historic inflation, this package will help ensure we retain and recruit qualified, dedicated public employees to serve Montanans.

“We all came to the table and negotiated in good faith, and I appreciate the union’s collaboration with my team. Together, we negotiated a fair, fiscally responsible deal that provides state employees with competitive compensation, and I look forward to working with the legislature and the unions to approve the plan.”

The Montana Federation of Public Employees also lauded the negotiations, according to the news release.

“This pay plan agreement is a testament to our bargaining team’s tireless commitment to their fellow MFPE members,” said MFPE President Amanda Curtis in a statement. “We recognize Governor Gianforte for his good faith bargaining and his willingness to respond to the needs of the workforce that keeps Montana great. This agreement is hard-bargained and months in the making. I look forward to working with the governor to secure an overwhelming and bipartisan passage through the 2023 Legislature.”

AFSCME Executive Director Timm Twardoski said the deal would help keep workers in Montana.

“We appreciate Governor Gianforte for respecting our contracts and investing in state workers,” said Twardoski in a statement. “Too many state workers are leaving for employment elsewhere. Today, Montana recognizes the value of state employees and we begin the hard work of making sure they’re able to continue living here and working on our behalf.”

The agreement includes the following, according to the Governor’s Office:

  • A $1.50 per hour or 4% raise—whichever is greater—on July 1 each year of the upcoming biennium.
  • Single members’ out-of-pocket health benefit contributions, copay amounts, deductibles, and co-insurance costs will not increase through 2025.
  • Additionally, one-time payments prorated to a 40-hour work week and worth up to $1,040 will be provided to every employee.
  • The agreement also provides increased meal per diems and the addition of an annual flexible holiday, which will replace every other year’s Election Day holiday.

All parties agreed to further explore locality pay for high cost of living locations in future negotiations, the news release said. Contract language standardization between the various state departments, agencies, and divisions will also be considered.

Unions representing public employees bargain a state pay plan with the governor prior to every legislative session. The bargained pay plan must then be approved by the legislature. The news release noted that this year, union members from the trades and representatives from AFSCME and MFPE joined for the pre-budget negotiations with Republican Gianforte and his administration.

Given increased housing prices, rising insurance costs, and employee vacancies, the bargaining team set out to secure an agreement that would help retain and recruit talented workers, the news release said. With those shared concerns, Gianforte instructed his bargaining team to approach the process with similar goals in mind.

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