HELENA – State employee unions on Wednesday filed an unfair labor practice claim against the state in the wake of the Legislature’s rejection of a pay deal negotiated with the governor — a move the unions hope will lead to an even better deal and a special legislative session to ratify it.
The claim will launch an investigation by a hearing officer at the Montana Department of Labor and a decision by the Board of Personnel Appeals that could be appealed to court by either side.
The state unions currently have a seat on the labor side of that board, but MEA-MFT union leader Eric Feaver expects those with a conflict will recuse themselves from this particular hearing.
The Republican-led Legislature last month rejected the pay increase of 1 percent in 2012 and 3 percent in 2013 for state employees that would have cost the state roughly an extra $21 million over the two-year budget period. That proposed deal was the result of negotiations last year between the unions and Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Feaver said he hopes the labor claim will result in a finding that shows the state acted in bad faith by first agreeing to a deal then rejecting it, an action he called unprecedented. He said the unions would then want new negotiations with the governor, an even better pay raise than employees first sought, and a special session of the Legislature called by the governor pressuring lawmakers to ratify the new deal.
“We are not done working hard for state employees that deserve far more than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick that this Legislature just gave them,” said Feaver.
In the future, the unions may not even enter into bargaining with governors if there is no guarantee any deal reached will be ratified, Feaver said.
Schweitzer’s office said the governor will have to review the labor filing along with his legal options before commenting on the action or the possibility the unions will ultimately want the Democrat to call lawmakers back to town for a special session.
House Speaker Mike Milburn, a Republican from Cascade who was named as a defendant in the union filing, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. During the session, minority Democrats supported the negotiated pay plan while majority Republicans largely did not.
Feaver said the union will keep other options open. He said those include filing a lawsuit or calling for a strike, a move Feaver said is not a favored option.
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