EWER: ALL STATE EMPLOYEES BENEFIT FROM YOUR WORK
David Ewer, who heads Montana’s Board of Investments, was a keynote speaker at this year’s Annual Meeting in Billings.
A state employee since 1985, Ewer brings a unique set of skills and observations to his current position. He has served as a legislator, a Department of Commerce staffer, on the Board of Investments, as state budget director for eight years, and now as the Board of Investment’s Executive Director.
He told MPEA members he was thankful for the services provided by DPHHS, noted that we had arrived on roads built by the Transportation Department and also commented that the work of Revenue Department collecting taxes enabled us in Montana to live in a civilized society.
“You benefit from regulations as do all Montanans.” To be remembered, Ewer was the legislator who vigorously opposed the 1997 deregulation of the power industry that led to much higher power costs, the collapse of the Montana Power Company, the loss of retirement benefits for many and the financial ruin of many families. It was this common sense that led former Governor Brian
Schweitzer to appoint him as his budget director. He was also the correct one in his arguments with legislators over the amount of revenue being received by the state.
Ewer relayed that “because of your work in negotiations, all state employees benefit. Without you and your leadership Montana wouldn’t be as good a place to work.”
“Thanks to unions,” Ewer said, “as the tide has gone out for so many Americans union members have been able to retain many of the benefits they worked to acquire.”
Ewer then began to explain the relationship between the health of state retirement systems and the work of the Board of Investments.
He began by noting that he believed it reckless not to have retirement security. There are a lot of naysayers about retirement systems but Ewer said the rate of return on investments stands at 7.83 percent which is higher than the 7.75 percent used by actuaries as a part of how they calculate the health of retirement systems.
He then said the 3 percent guaranteed annual benefit adjustment wasn’t funded then urged members to oppose extra benefits unless they were being paid for.
Ewer said Montana was a low tax state and that the Board has about $9.5 billion in assets of which $4.8 billion was in the retirement systems. He then noted that earnings from private equity (stocks) has been running 12, 13 and 14 percent.
Ewer concluded his remarks by saying he believed everyone wants healthy retirement systems and an end to the status of on-going fighting over the systems.
FLATHEAD HEALTH CHAPTER RATIFIES TWO-YEAR CONTRACT
MPEA’s Flathead City/County Health Department Chapter ratified a two-year contract in mid-June, according to MPEA Field Representative Jeff Howe.
The new contract contains provisions increasing base pay and increasing compensation for those who have received and maintain a special certification in an area directly related to their assigned duties.
The increase in base pay the first year of the contract will amount to 1.5 percent and members will also receive a 1.6 percent step increase on the member’s anniversary date. The pay increase in the second year of the contract will include the cost of living adjustment as approved by the county commissioners.
The new contract also provides that “employees who have received and maintain a special certification in an area directly related to their assigned duties shall be compensated with an increase of three steps.”
Chapter members working with Howe to secure this contract were Wendy Olson and Helyna Kretske.
Lone Rock Reaches Tentative Agreement
The 18 Chapter members of MPEA’s Lone Rock School unit reached a tentative agreement in June for the 2013-14 school year and began negotiating a contract for the current school year July 1.
Missoula Area Representative Jeff Howe explained that the delay for 2013-14 was a direct result of the school district’s initial proposal of a wage freeze.
Rather than sign a contract with no increase Howe’s bargaining team of Marcia Bloom and Deb High decided to suspend negotiations until the district’s budget situation came into focus.
In the end, the move netted members 10 cents per more on their base wages, as well as, a number of significant language changes.
Bus drivers will now be paid their regular hourly amount while acting as a chaperone on extracurricular activities. In the past, non drive time was compensated at minimum wage.
Leave without pay may now be granted for up to one year.
Language now provides that summer employees can work four tren0-hour days without triggering the overtime provision.
Bereavement leave was increased from two days to five days with the leave coming out of sick leave.
Employees choosing not to enroll in the district sponsored health insurance plan are eligible to receive $525 per month cash in lieu of the district’s contribution. Those working under 30 hours per week will also receive a district contribution but it will be on a prorated basis. This may enable some workers to take advantage of the subsidies that accompany enrollment into one of the Montana plans participating in the exchanges that are part of the Affordable Care Act.
Finally, insurance eligibility was moved from 20 hours per week to 17.5 hours per week.
Candidate John Lewis Speaks at Annual Meeting
Congressional candidate John Lewis met with MPEA members May 16 at this year’s Annual Meeting in Billings.
Lewis, a fourth generation Montanan, provided those attending with his position on a number of issues important to labor, discussed a number of issues important to Montana and its economy and answered questions from MPEA members.
The Billings native noted that the support of labor has been essential to his campaign. He observed that Montana is surrounded by right-to-work states then said he supported collective bargaining, the proposed increase in the minimum wage and that he would oppose efforts to hurt working families.
Lewis said there was a well-funded effort to privatize social security, to further limit the rights of workers and to eliminate collective bargaining, and, that he was “willing to go the distance for working families.
“Whoever emerges among as the GOP congressional candidate will have access to big resources,” Lewis said. He then asked members to get involved in his campaign by discussing his position with at least 10 friends and family.
He said he believed there was a real divide between rural and urban community priorities then cited the Farm Bill as an example of the real need for a rural needs advocate. It took six years of negotiations for Congress to pass a five year bill. He said he would also work to make college more affordable again because he believes access to quality public education was one of the cornerstones of democracy.
Lewis expressed his concern for Montana’s aging population and said he would oppose any fundamental changes to either social security or Medicare.
In a question and answer session, Lewis was asked about his position on corporate taxation. He explained he was for a simpler code and believed there was a need to eliminate tax havens and also believes in closing tax loopholes that make it easier to ship jobs overseas. A tax haven is a country that offers foreign individuals and businesses little or no tax liability in a politically and economically stable environment. Tax havens also provide little or no financial information to foreign tax authorities. Individuals and businesses that do not reside a tax haven can take advantage of these countries’ tax regimes to avoid paying taxes in their home countries. Tax havens do not require that an individual reside in or a business operate out of that country in order to benefit from its tax policies.
A Yellowstone County public assistance worker queried Lewis on getting people out of poverty. He said he believed raising the minimum wage was a good start and that there were a number of efforts in other states that were proving useful. He then cited Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe efforts to expand Medicaid so a greater number of the poor could receive health care.
Clint Oman, public health and human services, said politicians seem unable to address issues and asked Lewis “how do you get the House off the dime?” Lewis said that “they are in constant campaign mode back there (Washington D.C.) and there needs to be a break in the gridlock.”
Lewis was also asked by a Revenue Department member “what would be the most unpopular thing that you would stand up for.” He responded that “one would be continued military reductions. We have five massive bases in Europe; continued reductions could begin there.
Lewis was born in Billings, reared in Missoula, has been married since 2001 and with his wife, Melissa, has two small children.
Commissioner Bucy Spoke at This Years Annual Meeting
The importance of collective bargaining, the on-going need to educate and train Montana’s work force, and, the need to close Montana’s wage gap between men and women were the principal themes of Labor Commissioner Pam Bucy banquet speech at MPEA’s Annual Meeting May 16 in Billings.
Bucy has a long history of public service having worked in the Department of Labor and Industry, as an assistant attorney general for seven years and as a prosecutor in the Lewis and Clark County Attorney’s office.
She told members that “you can’t have high quality services without having high quality public servants.” Bucy stressed her support of collective bargaining as an ingredient in securing and keeping high quality services. At an earlier meeting with members, Bucy explained that she was from a large Townsend family where her dad worked as a miner. “There was no health insurance for our family of seven or decent wages until my dad joined the Operating Engineers union.” Bucy, who describes herself as a “long-term” public employee, noted that in the last legislative “we had no one talking right-to-work.”
She sees Montana’s economy as one that needs to continue to grow and that must be built on a foundation that isn’t possible without a trained and educated workforce.
Toward this end, Bucy is one of the principal participants in Governor Bullock’s Main Street Montana Project. Wherever and whoever has been met with to date has stressed the importance of a well educated and well trained workforce. Some of the key ideas Bucy, mentioned included the importance of lifetime education from pre-school through adulthood. She also discussed the alignment of the state’s educational system with the needs of a changing economy. Development of job skills through apprenticeship programs was also discussed. She also made a case for getting women in traditional apprenticeship programs so they could become carpenters, electricians and plumbers.
The gap between what men are paid and what women receive for the same work is a problem desperately in need of correcting. Bucy noted that Montana now ranks 40th in the nation on “equal pay for equal work.” She also noted that this was an improvement.
“Women work just as hard as men and closing the wage gap is an important working family issue,” Bucy said. She also explained that an audit of the differences was expected near the end of May.
As mentioned earlier the labor commissioner intends to encourage more women into what have been men’s jobs such as plumbers, electricians, carpenters and construction. Bucy reminded members that unions have been and remain one of the significant forces helping to narrow the wage gap.
Bucy said she believed much of the wage gap problem was cultural but that “something was wrong when the garbage man starts at $20 an hour and the CNA (certified nurse assistant) starts at $9an hour.”
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