Labor-state Gov's un-bargained union giveaway

Controversy over big pay raises to managers earlier this year prompted Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Friday to promise pay upgrades for some rank-and-file state workers in 2009-11.

Specifically, the state will eliminate the lowest pay grade and add to the top, costing an estimated $20 million in the next two-year budget. State officials estimate about 9,500 workers will become eligible for the new top step beginning July 1, 2009.

The increases will be in addition to any cost-of-living increases and other benefits the unions negotiate with the state in two years.

Public union members, some of whom had snubbed Kulongoski at a convention in October, praised the move.

This is "a win for the governor's office and a win for us," said Ken Allen, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "It's a guarantee of a wage increase in the future."

Catherine Stearns, a Service Employees International Union bargaining representative for the Department of Human Services, said: "Membership is happy."

Kulongoski, a former labor lawyer, has received financial and campaign support from unions over his two terms.

AFSCME members rejected an agreement reached with the state this fall when they learned managers and directors were getting pay raises of 11 percent to 24 percent for 2007-09. In contrast, union members would receive a little more than 6 percent in cost-of-living increases over the same period.

"It certainly didn't feel good," said Stearns. "It's a parity issue. We work just as hard as they (managers) do."

The tentative agreement reached with certain units of AFSCME Thursday night doesn't affect the current budget. The pay increase will be extended to more than 26,000 state employees who belong to other unions and AFSCME units.

"It's very much in line with the governor's concerns with recruitment and retention," said Kulongoski spokeswoman Patty Wentz.

But legislators who set the state budget bristled slightly at the implications the governor's promise will have on their spending decisions.

Sen. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby and co-chairman of the committee that sets the budget, said state workers don't get paid a whole lot, but the automatic increase means other programs might lose out.

"I think Santa Claus has come early," he said.

House Minority Leader Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, said he still hasn't received data showing the state needed to give agency directors double-digit pay increases to keep them from leaving.

"Look, I'm not going to shoot darts at somebody who makes a decision," he said, "if the data is there to show it is reasonable."


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