The Montana university system isn’t covered by the state pay deal reached Tuesday, and its chief labor negotiator said he doesn’t know for sure yet what kind of agreements will be reached.
Kevin McRae, associate commissioner of higher education for communications and human resources, said the university system is now in the collective bargaining process with 25 bargaining units that represent nearly 4,000 employees.
The Bullock administration and public employee unions on Wednesday agreed to provide most state executive branch employees with a 3 percent raise in July and a 5 percent increase in November 2014. In addition, the deal provides that members of the state’s self-insurance pool won’t see out-of-pocket increases in health insurance premiums before January 2015.
The university system will come up with its own separate deals with bargaining units.
“We are kind of in a tough spot,” McRae said.
He said the university system wasn’t funded to match a pay agreement like the one negotiated for most executive branch employees and can’t raise more money through tuition increases.
“We are in a tight spot compared to other state agencies,” McRae said. “On the other hand, we do have meaningful funding. We are appreciative to the Legislature for that funding, and we intend to use it to make meaningful improvements in salaries and raises for faculty and staff.
“And we will do our very best to improving compensation for our faculty and staff, who are very deserving of compensation improvements for the great, dedicated effort they give to Montana students.”
State agencies originally were fully funded in House Bill 13 to provide 5 percent raises in each of the next two years for executive branch employees. However, McRae said, the university system was given only about half the money to cover for the two 5 percent raises.
Then the Legislature stripped out the 5 percent raises and reduced funding for raises by 25 percent for executive branch agencies and left it up to the Bullock administration to reach a deal with unions.
“We didn’t get quite that big of a cut, but we went into it funded only at about 50 percent to get the 5 and 5 (percent raises),” McRae said.
When the Legislature fails to appropriate enough to cover the cost of pay raises, the university system typically makes up the difference by raising student tuition, McRae said.
However, tuition for Montana students will be frozen for two years under an agreement between the Board of Regents and the Schweitzer and Bullock administrations that was endorsed by key legislators. The Legislature provided sufficient money to prevent tuition increases.
McRae said he believes the university system’s health plan is in good shape and should be able to maintain premium rates to protect members and the self-insured plan from any substantial out-of-pocket increase. However, he said the system cannot guarantee a freeze.