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Growing membership key to securing record raises for Nebraska state employees

Photo: Denis Tangney Jr/ Getty Images
Growing membership key to securing record raises for Nebraska state employees
By Ezra Kane-Salafia ·
Tags: Momentum Wages

Members of the Nebraska Association of Public Employee Unions (NAPE/AFSCME Local 61) this week overwhelmingly ratified a new contract that delivers record raises of 10% to 27% over the next two years.

It’s no coincidence that NAPE members won a major contract with record wage increases while also experiencing the highest levels of membership in 25 years.

“Our strength and power during negotiations this year is a direct result of the involvement of union members and our record growth,” said Melissa Haynes, a social services worker and president of NAPE.

“Many more people are asking questions and trying to get involved in our union than ever before,” said Sam Hansen, an engineer with the Department of Environment and Energy, a union steward and a member of the bargaining team. “We can capitalize on the momentum around the country to get Nebraska state employees involved.”

The ratification vote totals reflected the high level of support for the raises and other provisions in the contract. Across the eight bargaining units covered by the contract, the average vote was 93.3% in favor, with strong turnout across units.

The contract — which NAPE members voted on throughout January — delivered raises of 10% to 27%, depending on job classification. It takes effect July 1, 2023, and lasts until July 1, 2025.

The big wage increases were a key priority for members heading into negotiations.

Brandon Brown, a NAPE board member and an agent at the Nebraska Department of Revenue, said, “In the surveys we do every year, meaningful wage increases were the No. 1 priority.”

Despite small increases, wages haven’t kept up with recent inflation, Brown said, and new hiring bonuses weren’t stopping experienced employees from leaving in droves.

“With raises last summer … we slowed the hemorrhaging of workers,” Brown said. “With the raises coming up July 1, we should be able to slow down people leaving public service (even more).”  

Other wins include guaranteeing that the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) will provide water to workers on hot days, increasing work-boot reimbursement for NDOT workers, expanding the definitions of bereavement leave for all state employees, further protecting workers from unfair accusations of abusing sick leave, expanding the payout window for annual comp time, and more.

Winning a strong contract isn’t the end of the fight, Hansen noted.

“We have to keep management’s feet to the fire. We need to communicate to our co-workers about the work that still needs to be done,” he said.

Brown said more state workers are likely to get involved in improving their workplaces.

“Long-time employees have said they’ve never seen anything like this contract,” Brown said. “Now they’re turning their attention to getting involved in fixing the other issues.” 

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