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State labor contracts

This was the week 31,000 unionized state workers thought they would receive 2.5 percent raises. That won’t happen on time because the Republican-controlled Legislature has not approved the contracts. The 15 labor contracts were negotiated by the staff of former Republican Gov. Scott McCallum. The contracts generally provided a 1 percent raise in July of 2001, another 2 percent in mid-2002 and 2.5 percent increases early in April of 2003. Some of the labor contracts were settled in the spring of 2002, but McCallum failed to promptly submit them to the Legislature for ratification while the talks were continuing with other unions. The agreements with the bigger unions occurred after McCallum had lost the 2002 gubernatorial election to Democrat Jim Doyle. Republican legislative leaders refused to submit the McCallum negotiated contracts to the Legislature and returned them to Doyle. The new governor has said he’ll reopen labor talks but only if the unions request it. Doyle said he’d resubmit the McCallum negotiated contracts if the Republican leaders say they’re willing to vote on them.

Mentioned in this Article Gov. Jim Doyle Representatives Rep. John Gard,
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Union leaders haven’t budged. They wear buttons saying “a deal is a deal.” Republican legislative leaders say it’s Doyle’s problem to solve. The governor says it could be an unfair labor practice for him to demand changes in contracts his predecessor had negotiated. Doyle’s biennial budget would provide enough money to cover the pay raises negotiated by McCallum, but the Republican legislators want to make changes in the health insurance provisions of the labor contracts. They say citizens are irate that two-thirds of the state’s employees pay nothing out-of-pocket for their health insurance coverage. That sentence can anger citizens. But seldom mentioned is that most state employees pay the entire cost of their health insurance for the first six months on the job. One of the bizarre aspects is that negotiations for the 2003-2005 biennium would normally be getting under way at this time. If you want to change the health insurance contributions, the 2003-2005 labor contracts would start having an impact on July 1 — less than three months from now. While the state’s fiscal years and labor contracts run on a July-to-June basis, the state employee health contract with assorted health maintenance organizations operate on a January-to-December basis. Employees decide in October, based in part on how much each HMO will cost them, on their coverage for the following calendar year. Leading the Republican opposition to the McCallum labor contracts has been Assembly Speaker John Gard, R-Peshtigo, mentioned in some circles as a possible future gubernatorial candidate. But the state employees, many of whom back Republicans, will remember his actions on these labor contracts. Matt Pommer is the dean of correspondents covering the state Capitol.

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