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UM's contentious contract


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University of Montana employees currently mulling over a new contract that holds salaries flat for two years were stunned to learn Friday that Montana State University's (MSU) incoming president will earn $280,000 annually.

The contract up for vote would bring the minimum wage for hourly employees up to $10 per hour. If the deal goes through, salary employees earning less than $45,000 per year will receive a lump-sum payment of $450, with part-timers receiving $225. Otherwise, salaries will remain flat.

UM employee and Ward 2 City Councilor Stacy Rye says the proposed contract will force dining service workers, groundskeepers and administrative employees campus-wide to continue living hand to mouth.

"The administrators who work here view the humans that work here as negotiable," Rye says. "We don't make living wages."

UM Vice President Jim Foley defends the contract proposal, saying that by agreeing to bring the minimum wage up, the university is working to ensure its employees earn enough to live on.

"This is not a minor issue to us," Foley says. "This agreement recognizes the needs of the lowest paid employees."

Rye says if the contract is approved, she will have received a 45-cent per hour raise after four years of employment.

"It's unconscionable," she says.

Meanwhile, incoming MSU president Waded Cruzado is slated to receive $75,000 more than her predecessor, Geoff Gamble. And because the Montana Board of Regents has historically kept MSU and UM presidential salaries in synch, many believe UM President George Dennison will get a big bump from his current $205,050 salary.

But Montana Board of Regents Director of Labor Relations Kevin McRae says it's too early to speculate.

"If regents find there is an equity issue, there could be an adjustment," he says.

McRae says the regents empathize with employees struggling to make ends meet, but luring a qualified candidate to MSU required a higher salary.

As news of Cruzado's wage agreement got out, phones at the Montana Public Employees Association (MPEA)—the union responsible for negotiating the pending contract—started ringing.

"It just comes at a time when people are very frustrated," says MPEA Director Quinton Nyman.



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