Governor Vilsack and representatives of the state’s largest public employees union have reached a tentative agreement on a new two-year contract that will cover the way most state workers are paid. And those workers won’t be getting a pay raise in the new state fiscal year that begins in July. Jan Corderman, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Council 61, wasn’t giving many details of the AFSCME settlement. She says they reached the tentative agreement with the state “in the wee hours of the morning,” about thee A.M. Sunday, after meetings that began back on November 24. There’s no “across-the board” increase in the first year, though Corderman says negotiations allow some veteran state workers tol get a two-and-a-half percent pay raise on June 1st and those who aren’t at the top of their pay grade may be eligible for other increases. She adds that the contract’s second year calls for two percent across the board for all workers, starting July 1, 2006. Corderman says there are compromises in any negotiations, but this is a good agreement for everyone involved. “This was a hard-fought agreement,” Corderman says. She says it provides a “decent wage package, but in a way that doesn’t break the bank.” She says the union wanted to be responsible to its members who provide state services, but also to the state taxpayers who pay for those services — and rely on them. She says it also makes state employment “a job of first resort, instead of last resort.” Corderman says that means this contract will make public employment inviting enough to retain the best people in government, to deliver quality services, yet does it in a way that’s responsible to the taxpayers who pay for those services. The union’s already setting up meeting places and will schedule visits around the state to acquaint AFSCME rank-and-file with details of the proposed contract before rank-and-file union members are asked to vote on its approval. A mailing will go out this week, meetings begin Saturday and will go through February 22nd. At the statehouse, reaction to the tentative pact was mixed. Governor Vilsack said the one-year pay freeze for state workers will let the state invest more in education, job creation and healthcare. The republican chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Bill Dix of Shellrock, says he’d rather see the pay freeze applied to both years of the contract. Dix says budgets are tight and priorities are education and healthcare for the poor, so pay increases don’t make much sense. “At a time when we don’t have the resources to fund salaries, it’s better to take a ‘status-quo salary’ rather than to have a number of people laid off with no job.” But others, like House Speaker Christopher Rants, a republican from Sioux City, said the contract’s acceptable, though Rants warned it’s not exactly the no-increase agreement being promoted. Though it’s billed as a zero-percent pay increase, Rants says it amounts to 27-point-7-million dollars because it includes benefit packages and potentially picking up the cost of increases in insurance premiums. “I don’t know how we’re going to afford it, but it’s better than what we’ve had in the past.” No date has yet been set for when the contract is ratified by a vote of the 18-thousand state workers the union represents.
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