Officials of the largest state employee union - the Utah Public Employees Association - said Thursday they are disgusted with the pay raise the Republican-controlled Legislature and GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter granted state employees two weeks ago.

They may file suit in the courts to get a more equitable pay scale. They will also target senators who opposed their raises and, hitting lawmakers where it really hurts, won't contribute any more money for the Senate's free lunches.Union officials blame Bangerter - who isn't seeking re-election next year - and leading GOP lawmakers and say they will hold them politically responsible. "The buck stops there (with Bangerter and the leaders)," says Nancy Sechrest, UPEA executive director.

Sechrest said the state has "serious pay inequities," some of which have already found their way into the courts. When merit raises are awarded later this year - raises she says are based on inadequate worker evaluations - she predicts more court battles. "And the (UPEA) will be there to file the suits, if necessary, to guarantee fairness."

Sechrest said Thursday that while employees were promised 5 percent pay raises, they will actually end up with only a 1.6 percent merit raise, which she called woefully inadequate. About a third of the state's rank-and-file work force got substandard job evaluations and won't receive any merit pay raise, state officials estimate.

When Bangerter suggested his $3.5 billion, 1991-92 fiscal budget, he said there was money available for a 5 percent benefit package. Some of that money would go toward retirement and health-care cost increases, he said, but about 3 percent would be available for merit raises.

Francine Giani, Bangerter's press secretary, said in response to Sechrest's complaints, "We were totally fair and up front with the UPEA. The budget office tells me the final merit pay raises will be between 2.5 percent and 3 percent, with the rest going to the benefit package. That's what we said all along. The raise keeps public employees on par with the private sector; they did OK this session."

The UPEA board of directors issued a "public statement of disgust," complaining about the pay raises. "The board will also meet with its 33-member advisory council and political action committee within the week to plot counterstrike measures," Sechrest said.

"The (pay) package stipulates that only `merit worthy' workers will see any of that money in their paychecks, and the average increase will be a pitiful 1.6 percent," she added.

Lawmakers said retirement and health-care costs come first out of the 5 percent, with the remainder going to merit raises. The discrepancy between Bangerter's and the union's merit pay raise percentage comes in estimates of how much money will first be diverted to retirement and health-care increases.

Sechrest said in the six years that Bangerter has recommended budgets as governor, state employees have gotten a total 8.5 percent cost-of-living adjustments. The National Consumer Price Index, on the other hand, has climbed 19.3 percent during the past five years. "Utah now ranks 44th among all states in the amount of money lawmakers granted for across-the-board increases."

Giani said Bangerter did oppose the UPEA's own pay plan. "It cost too much money, money we don't have. What do they suggest, that we raise taxes?" Giani said.

Sechrest said UPEA leaders, meeting March 13, will likely vote to target key GOP senators in 1992 who opposed their pay plan. Sechrest also said the UPEA will likely refuse to give money to the Senate's Third House, the body's fund-raising arm that collects cash from lobbyists for Senate lunches and social activities.