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Do the Right Thing in Montana

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By Clyde Weiss State & Local Budgets Workers' Rights

Montana state public service workers thought they had a deal with Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D). The governor thought he had a deal with them, too. Their deal was to approve raises of 1 percent in 2012 and 3 percent the next year. But the Legislature said, ‘No!’

What makes the Republican-controlled Legislature’s action even more reprehensible is that there is money to pay for the small wage increase. The state’s budget is not in the red, as are many other state budgets. The unions even suggested a legislative trigger to make sure there are revenues to back the increases. So what gives?

“A deal is a deal,” insists Timm Twardoski, executive director of AFSCME Council 9. That’s why AFSCME, along with the Montana Public Employees Association and teachers’ union MEA-MFT, have jointly filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) complaint with the state Board of Personnel Appeals.

Twardoski says the Legislature’s failure to approve the agreement, negotiated by all three unions with the governor’s administration in November 2010, is unprecedented. Eight separate contracts negotiated this way have gone on to approval in the Legislature, he noted. This is the first time lawmakers refused to approve the deal.

“The legislative majority has failed each and every state employee,” Twardoski said. “They have proven they have no respect for the important work state employees do every day for the people and economy of Montana. It’s unimaginable to ask anyone to take a pay freeze for five calendar years with no explanation.”

This is just another example of the unfair and unnecessary political attacks against public service workers that right-wing, anti-worker lawmakers are conducting nationwide. Even without a state deficit as an excuse, Montana’s GOP lawmakers are targeting workers’ wages and benefits. This is a war against the middle class that AFSCME activists will be addressing next month at our State Battles Summit in Washington, DC.

The bottom line: the Montana Legislature failed to bargain in good faith. We’re certain the state Board of Personnel Appeals will agree.

Read more in the Billings Gazette.