GREAT FALLS — Earlier this week, Fourth Street South outside the Great Falls Public Schools District Office was lined with office workers and supporters staging an informational picket for fair pay. Those efforts helped make an impact as Thursday night when the union and the district reached a tentative settlement.
According to a news release from the Montana Federation of Public Employees, the deal includes a pay raise of 8%.
Ashlie Clark is a member of the union’s bargaining team and an administrative assistant at Lincoln Elementary School.
“It's such a relief to have come to an agreement that we're all happy with,” said Clark. “It was a long seven months, but we're done and we're very happy.
“We're excited, just like they are to come to a tentative agreement,” said Great Falls Public School District Human Resource Director Luke Diekhans. “It goes to the board on December 11th. So, we'll just wait for that process to finish out all the final details, make sure we can make it work for everybody.”
Clark says the deal affects 68 workers in the district. According to MFPE, over the course of the three-year deal, starting wages will climb to between $16.40 to $19.82 an hour, up from the current rate of $13.59 to 16.73.
By July of 2025, MFPE says the office worker’s average salary of $19.72 an hour will be 99% of the average of Class AA districts in Montana. Currently, the average salary is $16.59 an hour, roughly 83% of the AA average.
MFPE says a longevity payment starting in their 15th year of employment was also secured.
Diekhans says the district’s budget will be impacted. He says with the exception of a few rare instances, anything above a four percent increase is more than he’s seen in 25 years with the district.
“We know moving down the road there's going to be some challenges,” said Diekhans. “But we look forward to working with our groups to meet those challenges and make sure that we can keep our employees where they're at and pay them for what they do.”
Both Clark and Diekhans described the talks as civil and cordial and both are glad a strike was avoided.
“I think if the groups lost every clerical worker for one solid day, they would have felt it,” said Clark.
“There's not a worker we can do our job without. Whether it's clerical, teachers, food service. We need every person in the building,” said Diekhans. “We do an awesome job at finding the right people and the right fit for these positions. And hopefully with agreements like this, we can keep them in their positions for long term.”
Clark says once the agreement is ratified, a pay raise is retroactive to July 1 comes at an opportune time.
“We'll get that money into the hands of our people on or before December 20th, and that was really important to us right before Christmas. It's going to make a big difference,” said Clark.