Lost in the budget noise: contract agreements with state's largest unions

The tentative contract agreement reached between the Corbett Administration and two of the state's largest public employee unions fits the spending parameters set by the governor and Republican legislators and will not hold up the state budget, an administration leader said today.

Administration negotiators struck a deal with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Pennsylvania Social Services Union at the end of last week, said Secretary of Administration Kelly Powell Logan.

The 4-year deal includes 18 months of wage freezes and increasing health care contributions by state employees -- two of the demands made by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in his starting offer to the unions.

Pay for union members will increase by 4 percent over the life of the contracts, compared to a 10 percent increase during the contracts that expires on Thursday, the same day the state's budget is due.

"Union negotiations are never an easy process for a state, especially in these kind of financial times," Logan said. "Still, our tremendous rapport with the unions here made a deal possible that stuck within the governor's proposed limits. This was a success for both sides."

Logan said the contracts will save Pennsylvania as much as $550 million when compared to the expiring contract. She stressed that many contract details still need to be finalized, but she is confident a final deal will be reached by the budget deadline.

AFSCME is the state's largest public employee union and represents 34,000 of the state's 57,000 unionized workers. Union members make $38,000 a year on average and contribute 3 percent of that towards health care costs.

By the end of the new deal, state employees will contribute as much as 20 percent of the cost of their health care, a figure much closer to private sector averages, Logan said.

Administration negotiators are still working with 15 unions, but historically contracts with AFSCME have served as a template for the other unions.

Logan expects quick progress with the other 15 unions.

"We're confident that these negotiations can conclude in the near future," Logan said.

There is pressure to establish new contracts before the state budget is approved because state workers' pay and benefits are included in the budget bill.


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