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State and university workers press legislators to end pay freeze

By Will Wadley, KECI Weekend Anchor, wwadley@keci.com
Published On: Jan 23 2013 10:34:52 PM MST
HB 13
MISSOULA, Mont. -

Legislators got an earful at a legislative hearing Wednesday from state and university employees who say their pay freeze has gone on long enough.

They're pushing for representatives to pass House Bill 13, which would raise wages for all state and university employees by 5 percent each of the next two years.

The bill would affect more than 15 thousand workers, all of whom haven’t received a legislator approved raise since 2009.

Many of the workers who testified before the state house committee brought up today’s cost of living, and said 4-year-old wages aren't enough to make ends meet now.

"As the cost of groceries, utilities, and gas has increased we've had to cut back on non-essentials to make up the difference,” said Deer Lodge Title and Registration Office employee Karen Haubbert.

State officials estimate that giving all state employees a “5 and 5” raise will cost tax payers about $130 million.

One of the workers who spoke said, by not approving the spending increase, legislators, and tax payers are taking state employees for granted.

"These workers are your workers, doing the jobs that you have asked them to do on behalf of the citizens of Montana," said Montana State Lab employee Jill Conehour.

"I ask this committee to throw us a lifeline,” said Montana Historical Society Archivist Rich Aarstad. “Acknowledge the importance of the work that we do every day in Montana. Honor the fact that we have stood firm in our commitment to the people of Montana."

During the last legislative session 2 years ago, legislators delayed making a decision on another state employee compensation bill for several months, then voted against it.

Workers at Wednesday’s hearing said they hope legislators will vote yes this time, and make a decision quickly.